Trapped in America's Safety Net

Trapped in America's Safety Net

One Family's Struggle

Andrea Louise Campbell

While many social protections are conferred on a near-universal basis in other rich democracies, in the United States more generous benefits are given to groups deemed deserving, such as retired workers. Those perceived as less deserving, such as the non-working poor, are seemingly held responsible for their plights and given only meager help. As Lynch says, the welfare policies of western Europe and Canada reflect “the principle of inclusion with elements of universal entitlement based on need and adequacy,” while the American welfare state instead “prioritizes personal responsibility, help for the deserving only, and the principle of less eligibility,” thereby making public benefits less desirable than work, as we saw in chapter 4. For the poor in America, the resulting orientation of the government is less about assistance than about skepticism, begrudging and meager help, concern about fraud, and even punishment. 41 These policies reflect public attitudes. As disability activist Dennis Heaphy says, “Americans have a punitive view of poverty and who is poor and why they are poor.” 42 Many are very concerned that some people might get more than they deserve. Heaphy adds, “We live in a mind-set of scarcity, and everyone is afraid that someone is getting away with something or taking away from them.” In the policy regime that arises from these attitudes, social workers function as gatekeepers rather than facilitators, and scarce dollars are devoted to sorting the deserving from the undeserving. The inefficiency of these practices is demonstrated by the decision of many states to simply drop the Medicaid asset test rather than try to ferret out the tiny level of resources most Medicaid applicants have.

Link · 2085