David Frum makes an important point that often gets lost in the rhetoric of who “contributes” to society and who doesn’t:
America is not a society divided between “makers” and “takers.” Instead, almost all of us proceed through a life cycle where we sometimes make and sometimes take as we pass from schooling to employment to retirement.
The line between “making” and “taking” is not a racial line. The biggest government program we have, Medicare, benefits a population that is 85% white.
Indeed. But that shouldn’t be surprising to anybody when it comes to a program like Medicare: the whole point of social insurance is that it kicks in for everybody at a certain pre-designed time.
The first point, however, is one that should always be kept in mind when discussing the sociology of the welfare state. I’m currently representing a client who has been gainfully employed for much of her life, but is currently receiving public assistance after being fired from her job. She has no money other than what she’s currently receiving in the form of food stamps. That’s it. She’s contributed plenty over the course of her life, and hopes to contribute again soon. But for now, she’s a “taker” until she can find a job again.
And that’s how it generally goes. The archetypical long-term “freeloader” from the Reaganite mythos (e.g. “Welfare Queen”) is actually a fairly rare case. The average food stamp recipient only stays on the program for nine months. The average length of time for TANF recipients is 18 months. Few people actually get on the dole and stay there indefinitely. Most people do not stay on public assistance long-term. Which is the way the safety net is intended to operate in the first place.