The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a must-read profile on the growing demographic of terminal academic-degree holders who are finding themselves applying for public assistance, due to job scarcity and low wages. Much of the piece focuses on white men and women, with the angle that this trend is particularly surprising and/or mortifying for them because, as one semi-anonymous source, “Lynn,” asserts:

“People don’t expect that white people need assistance. It’s a prevalent attitude. Applying for food stamps is even worse if you’re white and need help.” “My household went from one to three. My income was not enough, and so I had to apply for assistance,” she says. She now receives food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, and child-care assistance.

“My name is Kisha. You hear that name and you think black girl, big hoop earrings, on welfare, three or four babies’ daddies,” she says. “I had to work against my color, my flesh, and my name alone. I went to school to get all these degrees to prove to the rest of the world that I’m not lazy and I’m not on welfare. But there I was and I asked myself, ‘What’s the point? I’m here anyway.'”

I can personally attest to the difficulties adjunct professors face in trying to support themselves, post-education. When I decided on this career track, it was with a dreamy eye toward the prestige of being called “Professor,” toward earning esteem in my chosen field, toward publishing and paneling and becoming a foremost authority, and toward eventually transitioning up, into the rarefied echelon of the black upper (middle) class.

But, like Kisha, who testifies that she had to work at three different colleges to make ends meet, even before becoming a mother, I was quickly disabused of those notions.

“Prestige” means little for adjuncts, who now make up around 70 percent of U.S. college faculty. Hiring is contingent on enrollment, is contracted to last only 3-4 months at a time, and is low wage, compared to the salaries of full-time faculty (whose positions tend to be insular and designed for employees to “age out” of them or to willingly retire, rather than to ever be fired. Hence, the job scarcity).

The fact is: without retaining work at multiple schools and maintaining contracts with those schools from semester to semester, the likelihood of a salary that remains above the poverty line each year can be rather slim.

In terms of stigma, however, it’s dangerous to insist that one demographic’s reliance on public assistance is “more shameful” than the next’s. It’s all pretty humiliating. For everyone. In the end, the undereducated and the over-educated–of all racial groups–have to stand in the same line. They all have to endure the scrutiny and criticism of strangers who will label them as part of any trope they wish–be it poor white trash or black welfare queen–without any context.

But, if the end, if you’re still preoccupied with public perception, when your education and employment are failing to meet the most basic of human needs like food and shelter, you’re really worried about the wrong things.

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113 Comments

  1. Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

    I’m going to be honest. When I was in my early 20’s I came to see that single people in this country are getting screwed and it’s mainly due to the TAX STRUCTURE and Welfare laws in this country.

    If you’re single, childless and working you’re getting screwed.

    If you’re a welfare case the red carpet is rolled out for you in so many ways.

    When I was graduated from college I was working a job making about 35k a year. Because I didn’t have any dependents or tax exemptions I was getting taxed out the arse. Add onto that my 401k payments, health insurance (which sucks even if you got), dental insurance, vision insurance, rent (with water/sewer), car note, student loans, phone bill, internet/cable, gas for the car, and groceries….I was damn near broke. Most of my money was either going to the government or bills.

    Then I figured out how to cheat/work the system…

    I started a business. Bought real estate (a tax shelter…thank you Jesus). Learned to save/invest/manage my own 401k etc. Things got better.

    But when I think about everything I went through to get to this point it upsets me sometimes.

    There is no incentive for “doing right” and staying off welfare.

    People on welfare get more benefits than single people trying to do things right (get an education, find a job, etc).

    The incentive is gone. It left when the jobs left this country.

    What is stopping Ms. PHD from collecting her welfare check now? Pride? Perhaps…but that’s probably the only thing.

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    • Lady T

      AMEN!

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    • Queen

      OMG! Yessss! Preach! I’m 24 and I was dicussing this with my mother the other day.. It’s ridiculous how the system is set up. And thanks for the tips Toppin! I will def. be looking into ways I can invest and save my money into something besides just a savings account. :)

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    • “People on welfare get more benefits than single people trying to do things right (get an education, find a job, etc).”

      The professors this article profiles who are in need of public assistance have done all the things you’ve identified as “doing things right.” They’ve gotten an education, found jobs, and are currently employed. But because of their low wages and the unpredictable nature of their employment, they cannot can’t support themselves. They aren’t cheating the system in order to qualify for (or need) public assistance. Their actual income at their jobs is qualifying them for it.

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    • Lady T

      @ Stacia Brown
      There are jobs that would gladly hire them but are these PHd graduates willing to take them? I have a family member who has a PHd but is extremely selective about her jobs. In this environment, no one has too many options. But I have to ask, why did they persue a doctoral degree where there are no jobs?

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    • While I’ll agree that some PhDs believe their years of education and experience mean they shouldn’t have to settle for work for which they’re overqualified, there are also PhDs who cannot find work in fields for which they’re overqualified–for precisely that reason. They’d command more pay than someone with fewer qualifications/years of experience and be deemed a less viable candidate because employers would rightly believe that they do not intend to stay (as soon as something opens up in a field more closely related to their own, they’ll leave to pursue it).

      As for why people get PhDs “where there are no jobs,” prospects change. Some PhDs take six or more years to attain and during that time, the winds of opportunity shift. Further, not all PhDs believe they’ll be limited to teaching work; their degrees can be applied to other types of positions. And they have no way of knowing ahead of time whether or not they’ll be able to find work outside of academia (just like most people in college aren’t as confident as they used to be that degree-related employment awaits them after graduation).

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      @Stacia L. Brown

      Read my ENTIRE comment again…this time in CONTEXT because I don’t think you understood my point which was there is NO INCENTIVE to “do things right.” These Ph.D. graduates are proof of that…

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    • If your definition of doing things the right way is getting an educating and getting a job, how are they proof of *not* doing things the right way? Because they have children? Even the married ones? (Because not all of the people in this article on this subject are single mothers.)

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      @Stacia L. Brown

      Let me see if I can make this plain…

      These women DID things the right way and STILL got screwed….which is why there is no longer an incentive to DO things the right way. Get it?

      In your effort to read more than is written you keep reading incorrectly.

      I don’t have a problem with these women….I have a problem with the way this phucked up country is going.

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    • Ah! I did misunderstand you there. I apologize.

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    • Ms. Information

      AMEN! #singlechildlessandscrewedbytheirseverymonth

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    • Toppin,

      I refuse to live in a small town or some place where public transportation sucks. Cars are like vampire squid, behind your housing costs, they are biggest expenditure for most people. What really sucks is cars depreciated in value so after a few years, you don’t have anything to show for it.

      Now add in payments(just go to the auction yall and save ya coins), insurance, parking, tolls, tickets, and gas… you’re talking about thousands of dollars per year.

      If you’re a welfare case the red carpet is rolled out for you in so many ways.

      No one lives on welfare, people survive on welfare!

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    • I forgot to add that I agree with your comment. I just think it’s best if more people try to avoid the expense of owning a car.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      @Chic Noir

      Owning a car is almost unavoidable in MOST parts of this country. Public transportation will only get you so far in places like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, California etc. Not to mention it is a hassle within itself.

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    • Insight

      You sound exactly like me except I didnt buy my own business. I have been working in commercial real estate since I graduated college (24 yrs old now).

      The only major increase that I have had is switching jobs. If anyone reads this article and wants to know the quickest way to get a pay increase, look for another job even if you dont want it.

      Last year I was promoted/transferred within my company (the promotion landed me an extra $6,000…. even though I know co-workers with the same exact position being paid more..yes I’m still bitter) then started talking to all of the assistants and realized I was being paid $10,000 LESS than the assistant (I was the youngest, but did not have the lowest position) and I was an accountant!!!! When I found this out I was furious, started applying to jobs in LA and landed one that pays $20,000 more than my last position. When I quit they offered me more money, but I didnt want to stay with a company that thought it was ok to mistreat their employees. Now I get paid more, and work for one of the best companies in LA.

      But it doesnt matter anyway, when most people look at me, they think I have a kid and am still in school. Or that I’m on welfare. Or that my boyfriend takes care of me (even though I make more).

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  2. Lady T

    I have always felt that way but quietly because I did not want to make my cousins, co-workers and friends feel bad. Watching the news and listening to the politicians today, it is only a matter of time for the welfare system to be cut. It is going to happen I think in the next several years. They are not building these prisons for no reason. I wish my sistas who are leaning on it would relize that America will be changing for the better, but for only those of us who are wise in our life choices.

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    • I wish my sistas who are leaning on it would relize that America will be changing for the better, but for only those of us who are wise in our life choices

      More details please?

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    • lady t

      @ Chic Noir
      When Europe collapses, all who is in debt which is mostly 99% of all the nations, will have to pay the piper. The nations who have programs that aide the poor will cut drastically and you will have people who will be completely without security. No home, no food, no medical assistance, no anything. If you are skilled, you will be able to maintain a living. If you have no crediable skills you will be getting the left overs, basically the few jobs no one want. This will create a precise division of class. I’m not trying to be mean but there will be the rich, the working middle class and the destitute. Why do you think the goverment is building more prisons. It will be survival of the fittest. It will not last a very long time but the supreme black race (true hebrews) will reunite and claim their land.

      sorry if you do not believe this or think I’m crazy

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    • @lady T- So you’re a Hebrew Isralite, it’s cool :)

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    • lady t

      @ chic noir

      you’re not?

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    • No, I’m not a Hebrew Isralite.

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    • lady t

      @ chic noir
      what is your background?…….just curious

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    • Religion, race or ethnicity?

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  3. lovelygirl

    I attended community college before transferring to a University. While at community college I worked as a flight attendant. I lost my job due to 9/11. I got unemployment. I was a single, childless non property owner and like you said, ”Screwed.” When I decided to apply for financial aid at that time (community college was not as expensive as University and until I was laid off I paid for college myself) the first question the financial aid officer asked me was if I had children. I said, ”No.” She informed me that I didnt qualify. I didnt have to fill out one document. She simply told me that if I wasnt getting assistance from the govt then I couldnt get fin aid. Next day while in the common area I overheard a group of welfare mothers exchanging notes on how to cheat the govt, cheat fin aid and use the money for clothes, cable, etc.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      Damn shame!

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    • That is so sad.

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    • Tampicotg

      Respectfully she was completely incorrect. If you community college was regionally accredited you qualified for financial aid, she probably did not want to do the paperwork! FYI: Financial aid can be used for just about anything so how they chose to spend it was on them. As long as they’re attending courses and passing at least 75% of them they can continue to receive financial aid. There’s no way to really cheat financial aid….

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    • The Taker

      Dude that is bogus. Because of you’re financial/job situation, you should have been approved for FA. I’m sorry about that. You think folks would be understanding of people’s situation.

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    • JessicaMercedes

      I was working a full time job getting paid $10 (before taxes) and I was also attending community college on a full time schedule. I have two children. Its hard to imagine a single, childless person making it work on $10 an hour, now just imagine a single mother of 2 trying to make it work. I applied for welfare trying to get assistance to pay for food, child care, and to get Medicaid. How about they denied me for all three, quoting that I earned too much. I was like, WTF? Then I see these girls on section 8 (in really nice townhouses and freshly built homes), free daycare, free after care, free summer camp, 2 shopping carts full of groceries, cash assistance, WIC, a free bus pass (which they sell to pay for gas for their cars), and I can go on. And of course they’re wearing a $200 hair style, a $40 manicure, and the latest Jeffery Campbell’s. And, no, I am not exaggerating. So even though am not single and childless, I completely understand your frustration. I do find myself thinking, “What’s the point?” sometimes, but I still can’t imagine myself being a welfare queen.

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    • thinkpink

      @lovelygirl…you were lied to and that is completely incorrect. You should have been eligible for financial aid. I am single, childless, not married and my financial aid covered my community college costs in full and then some. Like a previous commenter said…she most likely did not want to fill out the paperwork. Financial aid is income based period and is a nearly impossible system to cheat.

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    • lovelygirl

      city colleges of chicago, harold washington. I went to the financial aid office twice. Told the same thing twice. i never completed paperwork

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    • mmm go onto fasfa website I because you really cant cheat the fa system i think you were getting misinformation. you should apply online 1st and then see what they say.

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  4. LemonnLime

    “But, like Kisha, who testifies that she had to work at three different colleges to make ends meet, even before becoming a mother, I was quickly disabused of those notions.”

    How can you have all these degrees and still be this dumb? Doesn’t common sense dictates if you are having problems feeding yourself MAYBE you shouldn’t have kids? Seriously people are so selfish. As one of those educated, working, singles without kids Toppin is right, there is no incentive for doing things the right way. They just take and take and take and give it to others. So now my taxes can go to pay for high school dropout, PhDs ( btw if you are paying for a phd in this economy you are crazy unless it is in engineering or computers you will never make that money back and if it is in liberal arts I’m sorry you’re just dumb), and all their kids… great.

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    • I’ve only been paying taxes since 2010 when I graduated from college but in that short time I have come to absolutely hate the idea of welfare/ government assistance. Like Toppin said and you backed up, there is absolutely no incentive to do it right because if you do you just end up getting the royal screw job. I look at my paycheck and see how much gets taken out for social security, Medicaid and other services I don’t even use and it pisses me off to no end. I know there’s no “right” time to have a kid but if there’s a wrong time it certainly was during the time when Kisha found herself in the position she did. I am of the understanding that people aren’t balling off of welfare but those same people often have to pay little to no rent so that check they’re receiving based off of doing 0 amount of work is ridiculous. Its truly frustrating to say the least.

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    • lovelygirl

      @ Sasha. I have two family members who work for the welfare dept and they made it clear that those on welfare (mainly the generational welfare abusers) do not live a decent life. The money is so minimal that it’s impossible to eke a manageable living. For a socialogy course, my research showed that the average welfare recipient is on welfare for an average of 2 years and most wouldnt qualify in they received child support. I researched this 10 years ago. Im sure things have changed. From my standpoint, the abusers have made it hard for those who are genuine and truly do see it as a temporary financial means.

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  5. I’ve always found it incredibly difficult to have any kind of nuanced conversation about “welfare” with people who’ve never needed assistance. It always devolves into blanket assessments, name-calling, poverty-shaming, and reinforcement of stereotypes about “welfare moms” who exchange tips about how to defraud the government–all of whom just happen to be within earshot of the anti-assistance proponent.

    Awesome.

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    • +1000

      It’s the same situation. Privileged people tell unprivileged people how to live their life and handle situations that affect the marginalized group. White/Black, Man/Woman, Rich/Poor, Straight/Gay, Ablebodied/Disabled. It gets tiring arguing with them and their straw mans that materialise from thin air.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      @YB

      “Privileged people tell unprivileged people how to live their life and handle situations that affect the marginalized group.”

      Arguably unprivileged people lose their autonomy when they look to those so-called privileged people to support them! The welfare state comes with a price…as it should.

      I am anti-assistance because I hated the way my check looked after working 40 plus hours a week for someone else. I am FOR tax reform.

      While I do sympathize with these women and while I no longer see any incentive to do things “the right way” it will be a cold day in hell before I support welfare in this country. I worked hard for mine…I’m not down for supporting someone else.

      You chicks better learn how to LEGALLY hustle like I did!

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    • @Toppin

      1. I’m not on Welfare. I’m in college. Pay for my class classes without the use of financial aid nor student loans, with my own money. I work and own my own car.

      2. I stand by what I said and will not go back and forth arguing with you.

      You have a great day.

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    • Nah, some of us have either had or seen family go through hard times before, we just didn’t have kids to “qualify” for assistance.

      Toppin’, we are —–> <——- HERE on this. "Arguably unprivileged people lose their autonomy when they look to those so-called privileged people to support them! The welfare state comes with a price…as it should."

      Assistance generally comes with strings attached, and that's even including family, much less a fellow citizen of the state.

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    • The Taker

      I so agree with you. These people know absolutely NOTHING. I know folks who were on welfare (i.e, mom, aunt, a family friend) and they would NEVER abuse the system. Took the money they got and did the best they freaking can to provide for their families. They were/are hard-working and busting their butts trying to make ends meet and that’s with the help of P.A. I never heard nor seen of this “Ballin’ out of Control” with people on welfare. Maybe in some cases, some folks do that but in most cases, a lot of them don’t. Oh and for all these snooty, snobby people’s information, welfare checks are also taxed. HA!!! We are all paying taxes, so please do away with the “My money is going to all the po’ folks”. Everybody is paying the one and only man, Uncle Sam. NOBODY in this country gets away without paying taxes from the haves to the have-nots, I don’t give damn what you saw nor heard.

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    • Ms. Information

      The Taker….you are wrong…I was a case manager for several years and welfare checks are not taxed…..while I know and met many good women using it for help…I met many MORE taking advantage of it……….having more kids, knowing that it would increase their food stamps and welfare amount…every one is not honorable like your aunts et cetera….I had to stop doing that job after I met a 29 year old with 9 kids…her foodstamp amount was $1000 a month…while I could barely eat as a college graduate with no kids.

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    • The Taker

      My mom’s check was taxed. I have no idea why, but hers was taxed. She’s off it now though. And that’s really horrible. One thing about welfare that I learned was it’s not a lifelong situation where you have no job and random ass people around the country are paying for your livelihood. They send your butt out there to work. They help you look and prepare for jobs. They set up work-training programs that recipients MUST attend when THEY tell you to attend. You don’t go, they cut you off point blank. Welfare typically gives people a time limit. And like I said during that, best to believe you better be doing something productive ( getting off welfare).

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    • Ms. Information

      That’s true, maybe states do it differently…Georgia doesn’t tax welfare checks…but the divide in my mind was (for the younger, hood chicks with the attitude) you have section 8 paying for houses in nice neighborhoods, free food, free healthcare, free transportation, utility assistance…they were living better than the workers…what is the motivation to get off of welfare when you are living better than the people administering it to you? I think that the type of woman on welfare has changed..I think our mothers honestly needed assistance, especially in the 70’s…now there is a sick sense of entitlement amongst these younger girls.

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    • entro

      Thank you for this article. Ive been telling people forever that the face of welfare has changed dramatically and the welfare queen was and is still a myth created by the right wing. You cannot get rich from welfare! people are lying about welfare recipients using their EBT cards to take trips to hawaii. LYE!! cannot happen, with the paultry amount of assistance that people are receiving as well as the restrictions on places you can use that card.
      My relative works for social sevices and there are so many people that go a long period of time without applying because of the shame put on people for needing HELP
      and they are not single mothers, teenage mothers and all the other stereotypes are out there but they are people like the one mentioned in the article, families that lost their homes before they were thrown out saved money normally used for their mortgage (Which were denied modification)to purchase a small motorhome so their children would have some shelter and they park it and move it from place to place.
      This is disgraceful that people would sand in judgement in situations they have no knowledge of and make others feel ashamed for needing help, even though they have paid or continue to pay into the system
      Hell yeah they should feel entitled because its their money they are asking to use!!
      Isnt entitlement being given something that is yours ????????

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    • entro

      If after 25+ years of working my butt off and paying into this system, If ever I need help because of illness or hardship or whatever unforseen circumstance . Im going head high into my local office and applying for assistance because I am ENTITLED
      There is so many negative connotations given to that word and its kept people ignorant and ashamed of Entitlement programs like Social Security and MediCare and unemployment,they are called entiltlements because everyone whose paid into it are ENTITLED to it. The reason that these programs are being demonized is a greater political motivation, that is to privatize them (The effects of this is too much to get into)
      Some of the judgemental and ill informed comments on this board are shameful

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    • I got sense!

      “I’ve always found it incredibly difficult to have any kind of nuanced conversation about “welfare” with people who’ve never needed assistance. It always devolves into blanket assessments, name-calling, poverty-shaming, and reinforcement of stereotypes about “welfare moms” who exchange tips about how to defraud the government–all of whom just happen to be within earshot of the anti-assistance proponent.

      Awesome.”

      Very interesting post but you are doing the EXACT same thing you are ridiculing someone else for doing. What constitutes a blanket statement. In the USA it’s all about percentages and majority. Whether welfare fraud is what is you are specifically speaking about or it’s simply the women who have a kid that they can’t take care of get welfare then CONTINUE to have kids and get more welfare it’s one in the same for me. Welfare was not designed to actually help people better their lives. Many understand this while many others don’t. In the current economic downturn many people who didn’t want to be on welfare had never been on them before or in a very long time had no choice. Obviously they are different than the generations of welfare recipients. I am by no means privileged but I would love if their was a welfare reform where you can’t get additional funds for having additional kids. Use welfare for its intended purposes not as a steady means of income for an extended period of time. The funny thing is you can call it stereotypes all you want but I received many unwarranted lessons on how to cheat the system. It’s sad. Especially for minorities.

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    • What blanket statement am I making?

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    • +1

      I hate that folks have to qualify receiving assistance. Like “I got foodstamps, but I also went to school full time, worked 5 jobs, was a caregiver to my invalid 150 year old great-great-grandmother, raised 9 kids, and volunteered at a homeless shelter 6 days a week.”

      It reminds me of the arguments about Trayvon Martin and how, as a young black man, he had to be qualified as “unarmed” and “a good student” and “no criminal record” and on and on.

      If you need assistance, you need it. Period. What is a bank loan if not assistance — the money is secured by the government, which is funded by tax-payers, so really, it’s all of our money. What is police protection, EMS, firefighters, etc. if it’s not public assistance?

      Folk need to get off that BS about being “against” public assistance. Some people need a little extra help — so the f– what? There are always going to be people who abuse the system — look at the Bernie Ebbers’ and Bernie Madoffs’ of the world — but that doesn’t mean everyone who benefits from the system abuse it.

      Christ…

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    • Kacey

      Stacia, I can understand what you are saying. For every welfare cheat there are probably many more people who are genuinely in need and trying to get off. However, those few welfare cheats we do encounter offer anecdotal evidence of a system in need of better oversight and repair.
      I’m not sure where you are from but in my NYC neighborhood I am constantly angered to see young girls redeeming WIC checks and using EBT cards while pushing babies in $1000 Bugaboo strollers. I have seen families where Welfare is generational and the recipients have no incentive to do better. I know young girls who recklessly have children they can not afford because they know they have a safety net to fall back on.
      I am a college graduate now pursuing a graduate degree. Before going back to grad school I worked for years and saw my paychecks reduced to support the above-described individuals. I’m still striving to do things the “right way” but trust me, when I see some of things I do it’s hard to not wonder why I even bother.

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    • @Mrs. Info.. I too had worked for that division and you are right. These people do make more than those administering welfare. Its sick and sad. I too had to leave that division because what I saw and heard would get to me.

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    • Kacy +1.
      Ebt=food stamps, section 8=rent,cash assistance=money, social security,tanf, husky health care I can go on. All contingent opon how many in a household ,circumstances and income. One of the worst case was when I told a young girl to take the opportunity go to school and better herself. She declined,then turn around and cried about how she was struggling(no money from her b-daddy etc.) during the assessment. Smh.

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