Andy Driver's letter "What is our hope?" in the March 21 issue of The Moultrie Observer refers to welfare recipients as "lazy, filthy Americans." Mr. Driver obviously misunderstands both poverty and welfare and should respect our forefathers enough not to associate them with hateful speech.
Mr. Driver tells an old story about welfare: "[C]itizens of this country lie around and wait to be handed something from the government. Grown men and women not only expect a handout...but believe that is their right as an American citizen to receive one." This story is hyperbolic at best and based entirely on anecdotal data.
In the 1990s, federal welfare-to-work requirements increased accountability and implemented job training programs. When helped to find jobs, fewer citizens needed welfare benefits and recipient numbers fell drastically. Even during the last few years of recession, the percentage of Georgians on welfare has never risen to early 90s levels.
As well, most recipients are not on welfare permanently; it is most often a stop-gap during a difficult time or a "little boost" for those who cannot make ends meet while employed in low-paying jobs. While there are cases of able-bodied citizens who do nothing and receive benefits, we should not judge the whole by the few.
Mr. Driver also states welfare inhibits the pursuit of happiness and creates a world in which recipients thrive while middle-class America suffers.
Data paints a different picture. A typical family on welfare receives benefits that total about 60 percent of a poverty-line income or 70 percent of a full-time minimum wage job. I don’t know a single person who could provide adequately for a family on that, let alone find satisfaction.
Mr. Driver then offers a simple solution: vote out those who support welfare! However, both parties have pet entitlement programs, and welfare numbers have fallen and risen under Republicans and Democrats and in fat and lean times. Voting cannot be our hope.
Instead, if you want to change the system, consider solutions that eliminate both initial applications and "returnees" to welfare. Tighten job requirements while spending more on career training, child literacy and education, public transportation, and substance abuse programs. Help private organizations expand social services through sponsorship and tax credits. Promote job creation by supporting small business.
Focus on hardship cases; the weakest among us – the elderly and the disabled – shouldn't have to worry where their medication or next meal will come from. Encourage two-parent households. Children of broken homes are more likely to fall below the poverty line as adults, perpetuating an endless cycle of need.
Most of all, acknowledge success comes through more than just hard work. Many will never achieve middle-class stability because they can’t. Success requires a supportive family, education and training, role models, networking, and a few breaks along the way. Simply trying is often not enough anymore.
No, Mr. Driver, we no longer live in the country of George Washington. Our world is global, multicultural, and complex in ways he could never imagine.
His hope – his American dream – cannot be ours. We have to find our own and help each other to it. And labeling your fellow Americans "lazy" and "filthy" doesn’t do that.
It's time to put away name-calling, Andy, and work to see a real difference in the world.