The Myth of the Welfare Queen
I often find myself standing up for the “Welfare Queen”, a woman characterized by 8 children, lack of a job, and the manipulation to receive welfare payments. Republican model, Ronald Reagan, introduced the term Welfare Queen on a national level in 1976. In his presidential campaign, he described an unnamed woman from the South Side of Chicago:
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
Although Reagan’s story of the unnamed woman was proven false, this image of the poor, black, self-interested Welfare Queen is embedded in American’s minds as she appears in movies in political debates. She has become one of the greater issues in American politics ranging from a casual debate between friends to large scale, presidential debates and campaigns.
It wasn’t until I read an article from theroot.com that I realized there is one huge misconception about the “Welfare Queen” so many people criticize and debate over: white Americans get the majority of tax-funded government assistance. There are 46 million Americans living in poverty in the United States: the US Census shows that 31 million are white while 10 million are black. Furthermore, there are 49 million Americans without health insurance coverage; 37 million are white and 8 million are black.
One of the most talked about government aid programs is TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). This program gives aid to single mothers – a target group of “Welfare Queens”. It cannot be forgotten however that Medicare and Social Security are both tax-funded, social welfare services from which 70% of white Americans benefit from. Another well-known program is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or more commonly known as food stamps. In 2009, the New York Times actually released multiple articles proving that poor whites “across Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and through the Midwest, Deep South and Texas borderlands” actually relied the most of all races on food stamps. They reported that of the 36 million Americans who rely on food stamps, over 24 million of them were white, 8 million were African American and 6 million were Hispanic.
Some groups claim that these poor whites, especially the children, are forgotten or looked over. Many people hear the word poverty and automatically think of urban, black people in single-family homes. However, these white children and adults are actually in an even more vulnerable position due to politicians. Republican candidates understand that race issues can be used to gain white votes. If there is an “us”, “them” complex, audiences are more likely to latch on and enjoy the ride that benefits them, or the “us”. However, if poor whites are voting conservatively Republican, (I can feel the eyes boring into me now), they may be hurting themselves by rejecting the fact they may need some of the assistance Democrats are pushing for.
I realize this is a controversial post and do not intend to offend any Republicans or poor whites. However, I think this is an important message that the Welfare Queen needs to be forgotten. She is made up of a string of lies and bullying through the media and politicians aimed at the single, black, female mothers. Welfare is a huge topic and I look forward to diving deeper into the issues within it.