The Dole, Relief, Welfare, Safety Net…
The series of articles beginning with “Occupy the Safety Net” [Jan. 2] and moving from topic to topic on that theme was exceptional. I enjoyed every sentence. The thing I found most amusing was an advertisement on page 45 for a T-shirt with The System Is Not Broken. It’s Fixed printed on it. A fantastic way to close the magazine for the night. Well done!
The articles in your “Occupy the Safety Net” issue make it strikingly clear that the recession has forced many thousands of people to rely on public assistance.
Having to ask for welfare is very demoralizing. In the early 1930s my father was unemployed for several months. (We were poor, although so were nearly all our neighbors.) By 1934 he had located another job. It involved hard work and long hours and didn’t pay well, but he did earn enough to provide clothing and food and to keep up the mortgage. Many of our neighbors weren’t so fortunate; but the creation of the WPA in 1935 did provide work for a minimal living wage for most of them. Even though they worked for that pay, the people in the program were looked down on by many for taking “government welfare.”
Through the years the safety net has helped families keep their heads above water. I found a poignant example of this in an essay written by a 21-year-old student at the University of Nebraska, in 1994, which appeared in the Daily Nebraskan. Today she is a newspaper columnist and book author. I have included it here [see below]. Politicians who believe their duty includes eliminating the safety net should read it.
WILLIAM J. WAYNE
Omaha, essay in the Daily Nebraskan
Sometimes I think they can tell. “They” meaning everyone, meaning you probably. “They” meaning professors and friends and prospective employers. Sometimes I think it shows in everything I do and say. In the way I walk and dress. Sometimes I think they smell it. Beneath my perfume, seeping out from my well-soaped skin.
Sometimes I think no matter how hard I study and smile and struggle, the poverty is still in me, rotting in my breath, devouring my stomach, burning in the back of my throat. In my eyes. And sometimes I think they can tell.
Because it’s still there. It will always be there. Keeping me on the run, making me think that if I sit still it will catch me again. It will catch me and hold me for good this time. That it will turn off the heat and take away my shoes. That it will empty my refrigerator and make my mother cry.
And so I run. I excel…. Out of fear. Fear is my motivation and drive. My muse. Because if I make everyone happy and pass every test, they can’t send me back. They can’t.
But it can. It can catch me. It can catch me, and it can catch you. Don’t ever think you’re too smart or too clean. Don’t ever think you’re too hard working.
“I don’t like welfare,” someone told me yesterday. I don’t like welfare either. I hate it. But I don’t know where I’d be without it…. My mother went on welfare when I was 8. My father left us—three kids, a pregnant wife—on a farm in eastern Nebraska. A farm with no phone. No car. No heat. No electricity. And a few weeks before they turned off the water. No nearby family to step in. No benevolent private sector.