Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute posted an interesting set of charts earlier this week, which seem even more relevant in light of the Obama Administration’s erasure of the highly successful work requirements for welfare programs.
Pethokoukis was considering the data in light of ObamaCare’s dramatic expansion of the Medicaid program, which he noted was originally intended “to provide improved healthcare access for poor people, without turning the safety net into a trap.” The upshot is that “the number of takers is now approaching the number of makers.”
In the case of Medicaid, 18 workers used to support each Medicaid recipient. The ratio has dwindled to just 2.5 workers per recipient. Looking at welfare more generally, “there are now just 1.65 employed persons in private sector per 1 person on welfare assistance.”
This is simply not sustainable. The equation is not affected by anyone’s emotional or moral response to welfare programs. Sometimes liberals become angry when the beneficiaries of the welfare state are characterized as “takers” or “parasites.” The latter is a pejorative term, but the former is a simple statement of fact – every recipient of the system’s output is, by definition, “taking” what other people are “giving.” The terminology used to describe this relationship does not suspend the laws of economics.
The great project of the modern welfare state involved transforming such assistance from charity into entitlement. Charity has moral connotations, implying the needy status of the recipient, and the voluntary morality of the giver. The people who work hard for voluntary charities, and dig deep into their pockets to finance their efforts, most certainly do not look down their noses at the recipients, but they also expect a certain reciprocal effort. They’re looking to help people help themselves. They wouldn’t want to provide lifetime safety hammocks for people who won’t take any responsibility for their own lives, or who persist in self-destructive behavior… and even if a private charity wanted to be used in such a way, they don’t have the resources for it. Precious time and funds must be spread between many people who need help.
But when the matter becomes one of entitlement, both sides of this moral balance are disrupted. The reciprocal expectations are removed from beneficiaries, along with all sense of humility (which has been mistakenly represented as “shame” by the defenders of the welfare state.) The providers are no longer allowed to express reservations about the assistance rendered, or become personally involved with the recipients at all. The whole affair becomes a sterile exercise in bureaucracy, which is very inefficient, so enormous sums of money are lost.
The effect upon the “takers” is highly corrosive, at every level of dependency. And the modern welfare state is all about creating new levels of dependency, as people who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, “desperate” are hooked into the system. Socialism is very interested in making middle-class people regard themselves as poor, and poor people see themselves as desperate. That’s how the power of the State increases.
It soon becomes apparent that even diluted versions of the entitlement toxin are morally corrosive, as formerly self-reliant people become addicted to their “free benefits,” and resentful of any attempt to remove them. The “takers” learn to hate the “greed” of the “givers” – a horrible, twisted inversion of voluntary charity, which is an act of love and respect between donors and beneficiaries.
It’s amazing how even a modest injection of reciprocal responsibility can turn things around… as in the case of the welfare work requirements Barack Obama wants to destroy.
All the while, beneath these moral and political disputes, the hard cold math of dependency grinds dispassionately along, caring nothing for the stated or hidden agendas of anyone involved. A shrinking group of providers simply cannot sustain an exploding population of recipients. The precise breaking point may be influenced by culture, politics, and national character, but eventually it will be reached. The closer the ratio of givers to takers approaches 1:1 – or even worse – the harder it becomes to reverse the process of economic and social degeneration.
Americans are a profoundly generous and compassionate people. They really do care about the welfare of all. That’s not the same thing as putting everyone on welfare.