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Welfare is the provision of necessary supports- be it monetary, social, or otherwise, for people who lack the current means to support their basic needs. The main goal of welfare is to aid those who do not have the ability to meet these needs with the income that they are currently earning. This welfare is usually provided by the government and takes form in different programs and policies. The social welfare system mainly addresses the social problems of poverty, disability, and the economic disparity that is found between the middle and upper classes and the lower class population.
Economic welfare impacts the poor in many different ways by aiming to close the gap between where an individual is currently living financially and the level needed to support basic human needs. Programs such as TANF, food stamps, and housing and childcare vouchers are mainly aimed to help those living in poverty as they are need based programs. In order for an individual or family to be able to participate in these programs, they need to meet certain criterion that are based on poverty and financial aid. One issue directly stemming from this is that these programs are not available for those families deemed to be living above poverty. For those just above the need requirements for welfare programs, they may still be struggling to make ends meet but are not able to receive any governmental aid. This brings about the question of how we define poverty and the poverty line. Should those living above poverty but still struggling be able to receive financial aid? Does this require a shift in how we define the poverty line? Social welfare programs to aim to lessen the percentage of people living in poverty, but it’s important to consider just how successful different programs are.
Social welfare is defined mainly as “direct public provision of cash and in-kind benefits to individuals and families, free or at below market cost” (Abramovitz). This system is often thought of as only serving to help poor people, but what many don’t realize is that its reach goes far beyond that. There are many social welfare programs that benefit middle and upper class people, and these programs are often seen to receive more federal funding and less stipulations than those that serve the lower class.
Middle class and wealthy families do benefit from welfare in many ways. In 2000, the government spent more than 3 times as much funding on programs that do not require poverty or other need as a specification in order to receive aid than on the programs that did directly affect those living in poverty. There are many reasons for the disparity in funding- one main one being that there is a larger number of people living above the poverty line than those living at or below it. This difference also stems from the fact that program requirements for inclusion are normally less restrictive for those programs that benefit the middle and upper classes. These differences are highlighted in the U.S. House Committee on Way and Means’s comparison of disparities in average monthly cash benefits of individuals in welfare programs. This report looked at social security and public assistance as the two main categories of welfare programs, then focusing in on benefits per person. Retired workers received about $800 per month from social security while a family of 3 received $420 per month from TANF. This is just one disparity that helps us to see where society places its values. Historically, US policies and programs have treated those in the working class as more deserving of aid than people without jobs and single mothers. There’s a severe discrepancy in how we view those with and without jobs- often including an assumption that people without jobs are simply lazy and that single mothers are undeserving recipients because of their marital status. Social insurances are based on an individual’s prior earnings and “payroll contributions” (Marx) while public assistance is based on financial need. Social insurances such as social security are universal programs because they do not have a need-based criterion in order to participate. The latter is what is most commonly referred to as welfare, with much of the general public not recognizing that programs such as social security are also social welfare programs.
Welfare benefits people of all classes in a multitude of ways. Society has, historically, looked down on welfare because it is seen as serving only those living in poverty. This fails to realize that the middle and upper classes also benefit from welfare programs, and that these programs are usually better funded than those serving the poor population. The social welfare system is expansive and aims to help people of all different financial levels.
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