A Further Perspective

The ‘Benefits’ of Greater Dependency

Hope and Change locks up its voters.

By 12.3.13

USDA (Creative Commons)

The Wall Street Journal carried a report this past weekend on the continuing partisan confrontation over a new farm bill. Democrats are already accusing Republicans of “politicizing what had traditionally been a bipartisan bill” by demanding that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or “food stamp” — expenditures be scaled back. For their part, Republicans can note that their proposed reductions would, over a decade’s time, return food stamp expenditures to approximately the same (then record high) level as in 2008.

The explosive growth of the food stamp program under President Obama has seen expenditures double from roughly $40 billion in 2008 to about $80 billion today. And, of course, the food stamp program is but one of several federal welfare regimes that have been expanded dramatically, as the current administration strives to increase dependence on government as a means of recruiting voters.

After our recent relocation from The Nation’s Only Boom Town to a pleasant small city in Alabama, my wife and I have seen the effects of the administration’s efforts first hand. Dealing with various issues that are a part of “moving in,” we have made the acquaintance of a number of people who are self-employed. Among them are home renovation contractors, electricians, and plumbers, and a specialist in the installation of small office Internet systems.

We have talked with these people about their businesses, the state of the local economy, and various issues of local concern. Their personalities and formal education levels are quite varied, as one might expect. Yet all have learned marketable skills, which they currently employ in working for a living. While they are affected by economic ups and downs, their fortunes are tied more closely to their reliability and integrity, and to the quality of their services, for they do business in “markets” where personal recommendations and “word of mouth” standing are crucial to success.

Historically most of these folks paid little attention to “Washington.” Their livelihoods were seldom if ever significantly influenced, much less threatened, by the policies and pronouncements of faraway ruling elites. They worked hard, supported their families, went to church, hunted deer in the season, cheered for Auburn or Alabama (cheering for both is not permitted!), and minded their own business.

These days that has changed, especially because of two of the current administration’s agenda items. One, of course, is “Obamacare,” about which we’re all reading these days (and which I’ll address separately). These self-employed folks, as “small business” owners in a red state, do not enjoy the exemptions and subsidies lavished on Congressional staffers, unions, and others in political favor.

Another administration “accomplishment” of concern to these small businesses, and my focus here, is the dramatic increase in dependency on government entitlements, including but not limited to “food stamps.” In addition to ballooning the federal budget and debt, this alarming development has made it much more difficult for our small business friends to hire entry level employees.

As we learned in casual conversation with them, both the electrician and the Internet systems guy are overrun with work. Most demand for their services comes from small business and residential customers. When we asked how they deal with having more business than they can handle, their separate replies were virtually identical: they are stretched too thin because they cannot find suitable people to take on as apprentice employees.

Both remarked that they are keen to hire conscientious people with no experience, and would expect to provide training to develop their new employees’ skills. The problem is that while they would pay well above minimum wage, what they can afford to pay is often not enough to entice people on welfare, getting food stamps and unemployment compensation and possibly claiming “disability” as well, to come to work.

This really impressed us. It cannot be a good thing that, when seeking to hire new employees our small business friends have been told repeatedly, in so many words, that accepting government benefits for doing nothing is a “better deal” than taking a decent job that offers the prospect of steady and gainful employment.

Our president and his party are acutely aware that expanding dependency is in their political interest. People who are dependent on government for sustenance are far more likely to vote for the party that promises to keep sending them checks, as the current administration has done, without imposing drug testing, annoying work requirements, or being picky about qualifications and the like.

And sure enough, this administration has rolled back work requirements, tolerated a pandemic of fraud, and expanded government entitlement programs dramatically. In federal fiscal year 2012, total welfare spending was roughly $920 billion, an amount four times what it would take — according to the Heritage Foundation — to pull every poor person in the country out of poverty.

If the present trends continue our small business friends will find it ever more difficult to hire conscientious new employees, even offering competitive wages and a career path. It is tough to compete with something for nothing, and according to the Journal report 18.9% of Alabama’s population get just that via the food stamp program alone. Sadly, dependency is habit forming: the longer folks stay out of the work force because the government pays them to do so, the less likely it is they’ll find their way to a useful career in the future.

 The ongoing expansion of dependency on federal entitlements not only makes its victims more likely to vote for politicians promising them a continued stream of handouts, but also keeps them from looking for work and thereby counting as “unemployed” for purposes of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly employment reports. This shameful situation is a “win-win” for Democrats and a “lose-lose” for taxpayers and for millions of currently dependent Americans who would be happier if they were employed and self-reliant.

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About the Author

Ray V. Hartwell, III was a Washington lawyer and a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. He died on February 7, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama.