Even though poverty is a difficult, many-faceted problem, the US stands out in how openly it hates the poor, even as its economic system looks increasingly designed to produce more of them.
The Republican party, doing the bidding of members of the 0.1% and ideologues who treat poverty as the result of the lack of a work ethic, have made cutting the food stamp program a top priority. An overview from Huffington Post:
Democrats have warned that after passing a tax bill that adds to the national debt, Republicans will say it’s all the more urgent to cut Social Security and Medicare.
While overhauling those popular programs is a long-term Republican goal, in the near-term conservative lawmakers are more eager to cut food stamps.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), founder of the House Freedom Caucus, told HuffPost on Tuesday that the influential bloc of conservative Republicans will push for “welfare reform” legislation next year that would add new restrictions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits…
He said the basic idea would be new restrictions on able-bodied adults ― even if they have children ― along the lines of a bill he introduced earlier this year. Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Jordan’s bill would cut SNAP spending by 20 percent over 10 years, which would amount to more than $100 billion….
Roughly 42 million low-income Americans, of whom 44 percent are children, receive monthly SNAP benefits that can be used to buy food in grocery stores ― making it one of the U.S. government’s biggest and most expensive economic safety net programs.
Jordan and Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) talked about the idea with Trump earlier this year, and Jordan said the president is enthusiastic about it…
Republicans have used resentment toward the food stamp program ― established in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” ― as a political weapon since at least the 1970s. Ronald Reagan, during his 1976 presidential run, would tell audiences of a “strapping young buck” outrageously using food stamps to buy steak.
Before we turn to this Republican implementation of one of Lambert’s rules of neoliberalism, “Go die,” note that Democrats are all with the bogus premise that Federal deficit spending is a problem, and therefore budget cuts are necessary and desirable. Since neither party will cut military spending or corporate pork, the only thing left to cut is social safety nets. So don’t kid yourself about the Democrats. They’ll make cuts, but slowly and with feigned regret, while as we can see from the quotes in the HuffPo article, the Republicans make them with glee.
It only took a few minutes on YouTube to find this priceless clip in which a Fox reporter, with a straight face, tells viewers repeatedly that the rich suffered more in the aftermath of the crisis than the poor. Since when is a decline in paper wealth as big a deal as going from poor to desperate?
The Republican canard is the claim that the food stamp program is full of modern welfare queens, slough-offs who need to get off their couches and find work. First, as readers know all too well, there is plenty of un and underemployment in the US. People would not be accepting debilitating warehouse jobs at Amazon if there was adequate demand for workers. Nearly 95% of the jobs created when Obama was in office were part time or contract work. Those willing to work can’t necessarily cobble together the equivalent of a full time paycheck.
Second, many jobs pay only the minimum wage, which is below a living wage for a family even with two earners, and below a living wage even for single people in virtually all cities in the US. And what are people in the boonies told to do? Move to cities to get work, even though they seldom have the personal connections to help them land a job there, and often don’t have enough scratch to fund a relocation (as in have enough money to put down a deposit on a rental).
Third, in keeping with the fact that many jobs don’t pay a living wage, people who are employed are also on food stamps. This article by Peter Van Buren, a former State Department employee who fell into low-wage work after he became a whistleblower and was fired, is important reading. Key section:
20 mega-companies dominate the minimum-wage world. Walmart alone employs 1.4 million minimum-wage workers; Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) is in second place; and McDonald’s takes third. Overall, 60 percent of minimum-wage workers are employed by businesses not officially considered “small” by government standards, and of course carve-outs for really small businesses are possible, as was done with Obamacare.
Keep in mind that not raising wages costs you money.
Those minimum wage workers who can’t make enough and need to go on food assistance? Well, Walmart isn’t paying for those food stamps (now called SNAP), you are. The annual bill that states and the federal government foot for working families making poverty-level wages is $153 billion. A single Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year in public assistance money. According to Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, in many states Walmart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients. They are also the single biggest group of food stamp recipients. In other words, those everyday low prices at the chain are, in part, subsidized by your tax money. Meanwhile, an estimated 18 percent of food stamps (SNAP) are spent at Walmart.
Yves here. Do you think the Walmarts of the world will raise wages to compensate for the loss of the food stamp subsidy? No way.
And let’s look at another population that disproves the “If you are broke, you must be lazy” myth. From a must-read Guardian tory on farm suicides:
We were growing food, but couldn’t afford to buy it. We worked 80 hours a week, but we couldn’t afford to see a dentist, let alone a therapist….
Since 2013, net farm income for US farmers has declined 50%. Median farm income for 2017 is projected to be negative $1,325.
Another sign of rising stress: homelessness is up for the first time since 2010. From the Wall Street Journal:
In an annual report to Congress released Wednesday, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data shows the homeless population was 553,742 in 2017, a 0.7% increase from 2016…
HUD Secretary Ben Carson said rents are rising faster than incomes in major cities, “forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets.”..
One in four of the nation’s homeless population could be found in New York City or Los Angeles County, according to the report. New York City had the largest homeless population with 76,501 people, a 4.1% increase from the prior year. Los Angeles County counted 55,188 people living in shelters and on streets, a 26% increase over the prior year.
A key difference between the two major metropolitan areas: in New York, 95% were found to be living in shelters, while in Los Angeles County only 25% were in shelters.
Yves here. I question that 95% claim. The homeless often avoid shelters save when the weather is very cold because shelters are perceived to be unsafe. During the brief life of Occupy Wall Street, many homeless people came and camped out in Zucotti Park because Occupy Wall Street provided free food and staying there at night was perceived to be better than going to a shelter. When the encampment was cleared out, some churched opened up to allow the former Zucotti Park denizens sleep there overnight. Our Outis did night duty regularly at one of those churches because they needed people to act as de facto guards, particularly to keep men from trying to force themselves on women. And this was a real issue; I recall Outis describing various safety-related incidents in which he’d had to intervene.
Back to the Journal:
Sizable year-over-year increases in the homeless population were registered in several California jurisdictions, including the Sacramento area, 47%, the Oakland area, 36%, and Orange County, 11%. Among major California cities, San Francisco was an outlier, with a 2% decline.
The Seattle area, another West Coast region that has struggled with high housing costs, saw an 8.5% increase in its homeless population.
So if more of the working and unemployed poor have food stamps cut, one of the results will be more homelessness, of the visible sort that the Feds were able to count, and the under the radar type of people living in cars.
And as I said, don’t expect the Democrats to do much, save for a few bona fide progressives who run on the Democratic party ticket. They also think the well-off deserve their high incomes, and while they express more concern about the poor, they are loath to spend any chips.