“”We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.
|—Paul Ryan... who paid for his university education by living off his father's Social Security benefits.|
|God, guns, and freedom|
|Starting arguments over Thanksgiving dinner|
|Persons of interest|
"Welfare queen" was one of many dumb terms coined by Saint Reagan, this time to refer to people who scam the government through the welfare system to live easy on taxpayer money without trying to work. Reagan gave a very memorable speech in 1976 which described a welfare queen drawing an easy living by scamming veteran's benefits and Social Security benefits from four (fake) dead husbands, as well as using eighty different aliases. The closest case to the one he described was of a single woman who scammed the government out of $8,000, and who, upon further investigation, wasn't emblematic of welfare users in general. Whoops (also, welfare fraud was probably the least evil crime she committed, since she was also suspected of kidnapping and murder).
This, as well as Reagan's talk of "states' rights", using coded phrases such as "strapping young buck", describing the Voting Rights Act as "humiliating to the South", intervening on the side of Bob Jones University (which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating), and firing three members of the Civil Rights Commission, was not at all aimed to appeal to Southern racism, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a dirty commie!
Stereotyping welfare recipients is an easy way to convince voters to reduce or get rid of these programs. It also has the benefit of manipulating the very people who benefit most from these programs into supporting their elimination (ironically the vast majority of welfare recipients live in red states). Observational evidence indicates that increasing state welfare support through increased spending is associated with increased social engagement, and, in particular, increased desire and willingness to work. But who cares about the evidence and quality of life when it conflicts with your ideology?
Today, "welfare queen" has evolved into a more general version of dog whistle politics against the new evil of "entitlements." While there are always going to be fraudsters and other people who badly abuse such programs, given the difficulties that private insurers of all kinds seem to have with the exact same problem (and openly advertise the fact that they increase your rates to deal with it) the only obvious difference would seem to be whether everyone else makes up for it in taxes to the government or premiums to insurance companies (or similar).
It plays very well into pitting people of different classes and races against each other. Race resentments very much factor into this, since only certain kinds of people (disadvantaged minorities) are portrayed as living on welfare. Many opponents of welfare use the welfare queen stereotype as a way to rile up members of the lower middle class and working poor against those on welfare/unemployment/Social Security/Medicaid benefits. This is by making wild claims that welfare queens are living "high on the hog" while the poor folks have to work hard to barely scrape by.
One argument that popped up in the health care debate is that people on Medicaid get free medical care on your dime, using purely the example of the documented rates of "plastic surgery" for Medicaid patients, while poor folks pay an arm and a leg to wait forever to see a general practitioner. What was not said is that the term "plastic surgery" in a hospital includes covered procedures for the replacement of skin for burn patients and rebuilding of parts removed for cancer surgery (such as breast reconstruction after mastectomies). Medicaid (and every other insurance) has never covered any purely cosmetic surgery, and you'll find the same around the world — but apparently it's difficult for Republicans to do research.
The real welfare aristocracy
- Krugman, Paul (March 6, 2014). "The Hammock Fallacy". The New York Times.
- The Mendacity Index, Washington Monthly
- The Welfare Queen, Slate
- Krugman, Paul (November 10, 2007). "Innocent mistakes". The New York Times.
- Republican-Heavy Counties Eat Up Most Food-Stamp Growth, Bloomberg
- The bigger the worse? A comparative study of the welfare state and employment commitment, Kjetil A van der Wel, Work Employment & Society February 2015 vol. 29 no. 1
- Soccer Moms, Welfare Queens, Waitress Moms, and Super Moms: Myths of Motherhood in State Media Coverage of Child Care, Emory University
- For instance, a Daily Mail front page from April 3, 2013, as reported by Digital Spy
- America's Real Welfare Queens
- The return of the welfare queen, Salon
- WHY REPEAL OBAMACARE? (Interesting name for a blog, too.)
- Take Canada, for example: "Private Health Care Funding and Delivery Under the Canada Health Act (PRB 05-52E)". 28 December 2005.
- Food Stamps Don’t Keep Walmart’s Prices Low, They Keep Its Profits High From HuffPo. I'm sorry.