Factual data: how many "welfare queens" versus the unvoluntarily unemployed of good will ?

The current threads show me many, many people feel that there are many people “leeching off welfare”. Others see those as a few bad apples when the majortiy of the people on welfare are involuntarily unemployed and hard working, decent people at heart.
This debate is not unique to the US: much the same arguments are heard all over Europe, ever since social welfare came into being.

Anecdotical evidence, evidently, does nothing but confirm each side’s bias. Does anyone have some factual data on the proportion of each? Or information on why such a factual info can’t be given?

Your question is valid, but the problem you are going to have is defining “welfare queen” (or king)

Here’s a “for instance,” suppose a mother on welfare has a kid. She’s on welfare then gets pregnant again. What does that make her. It seem common sense would dictate while you’re on welfare you don’t have any more kids.

But some people don’t look at it like that. Some courts and judges don’t either. It is like saying, “Only rich people can have kids.” In fact when some states tried to limit welfare based on this the judges agreed saying having kids is a basic human right you can’t take away.

Knowing people on welfare it is very hard to get “rich” off of it, though I you could get food stamps rather easy. Most of the people I’ve seen on welfare are severely disadvantage. They can’t even fill out a job application correctly.

No one is gonna want to hire them if they can barely read and write. I’ve seen people out in the blizzard in Chicago and the sub-zero cold that followed, begging for money.

That is HARD. That is work. It’s irritating work but it’s hard. It’s just there’s no one to direct them. So they will remain down. Any money they get will go for food and booze. It’s not 'cause they’re lazy, they just don’t know how to go about getting their lives back straight.

Excellent post, Marxx. I guess one possible distinction is the one our social security agencies make. When you’re laid off, everyone goes there to ask for social security (typically you get 70 % of your last net income for a year). When I went there in the past, I got marked as either "marketable"or “non marketable”. I guess To answer my own question, at least for the Netherlands, I should find out the relative proportions of non- vs marketable.

I think there is a misunderstanding on your part, Maastricht.
[li]If one has been gainfully employed, but loses their job through no fault of their own (generally speaking), one may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are not paid out through the social security system in the US. Unemployment benefits are available for a defined time period and then stop, unless Congress decides to extend them for long-term unemployed.[/li][li]On the other hand, “welfare” means something completely different. During the Clinton administration “wefare” rules were made more strict and the concept of widespread “welfare queens” may really no longer apply. They may be many people who fall into this area, but requirements have changed, especially the part where welfare benefits are no longer unending.[/li][li]Lastly, there are benefits from social security that come from retirement or disability.[/li][/ol]
It is important to make the distinction in what is being asked, and from what country you are making the request.

It’s a very interesting question, but I can’t imagine where factual data would come from. The best information (which, in essence, will probably be anecdotal) might come from people who work administratively within the welfare system.

Here is testimony before Congress on this issue, with some data.

The “welfare queen” slur refers to people living it up on welfare, buying Cadillacs. Pretty rare, I suspect, especially now.

The stats in the prior post are commonly trotted out by welfare advocates, but they are misleading. Because they refer to the people who go on welfare, not to the people on welfare at a given time.

For example, suppose during the course of a year, 12 women enroll in welfare for a month each, while 1 other woman is on for the entire time. Over 90% of the women on welfare were only on for a month, but at any given time 50% of the women on the program were lifers. Welfare advocates would have you focus on the first number, but in some ways the second is a lot more meaningful.

[I’m using “welfare” for simplicity. In reality, the “welfare queens” live of a tremendous variety of government programs, at the federal, state and county level. Also, FTR, I think there are very few people who really live on a high standard of living off as “welfare queens”. It’s about living semi-decently while producing virtually no effort, rather than about living rich.]

Welfare queens would be hard to define. About the unvoluntarily unemployed, Fred at Slacktivist has somethingsto say about the difficulty of finding* a job in the current situation.

*Note esp. the graph in this essay of job openings compared to unemployed people.

Hence the second paragraph about long-termers (“lifers” is right-wing exaggeration, you can’t be on welfare for life any more, and it was almost impossible even before Clinton).

But how long you’re on welfare isn’t relevant to the OP’s question, which is: how many people are on welfare voluntarily, (presumably because they prefer living in abject poverty to working)? There are a significant number of people who are simply unemployable (in any market) in a modern society; they’re going to be on social aid programs their entire life through no fault of their own, and it seems rather sociopathic to claim that they’re somehow “abusing” the system.

Furthermore, the term first came into usage during the 1976 primaries, when Reagan had his “welfare queen” anecdote he would trot out about some lady living in the lap of luxury because she was collecting welfare under dozens of aliases. So even when the term was first coined, it was talking about people committing deliberate fraud not people collecting benefits legitimately. So you should be able to get a decent handle on the true “welfare queens” by looking at fraud statistics (although those seem hard to come by as well).

As for people who are happy to just scrape by on what they legitimately get, that’s going to be extremely hard to quantify. It’s a question of mindset and a mindset they have to deliberately conceal. Also, there’s undoubtedly a lot of overlap and grey area-- someone who simply lacks the basic skills to get and hold employment by might eventually give up and resign themselves to scraping by on assistance. Does that person count as just not wanting to work?

I don’t know the numbers for the US, but in Germany, where a heated discussion also finds easy acceptable targets in kicking the poor lying down by calling everybody on Hartz IV (welfare) a lazy person, the real numbers are

(bolding mine)

  • BA = Bundesarbeitsamt = Federal office for labour, responsible for finding work for unemploeyed, paying out unemployment and other welfare now jointly called Hartz IV and also investigating possible abuse.

Depends on which program you’re calling “welfare”.

The problem here is that there’s no cut-and-dried answer, if you want to classify things this way.

There are a lot of people who are unemployable at any job that would motivate them to work rather than live off welfare. There’s no one who is unemployable at any job period.

Unless you consider personal failings to be beyond the control of the individual. “I can’t force myself to show up every day at my job at McDonalds working for minimum wage, and to stay off alcohol and drugs”. Is such a person “unemployable” and “no fault of their own”? Depends how you look at it, I guess.

The more significant question is what these people would do if these social programs didn’t exist? Would they starve to death, or turn to a life of crime? Or would a good percentage of these people find out that if the consequences are serious enough for them, they can actually call on quite a lot more willpower than they can call on when the social network is there to bail them out?

Do you have any actual statistics Fortheringay-Phipps? Define the parameters however you like but I too am interested in what the actual statistics are, rather than the talking points you keep trotting out.

Well, given that the current US statistic is

even people who are employableand willing have a hard time finding a job.

Which is why a good, sensible program (as opposed to one aimed at appealing to the populist idiots) also has a segment on how to integrate those people and help them develop job skills and perservance.
Sadly, in practise this usually denigrates into the 1-Euro-Jobs where people quite willing and capable of working who can’t find a job because there is no opening, and for every one opening, 300 people apply are offered a make-work menial low-paid job to “teach them” to work properly. This is rather offensive to those trying desperatly to get by, while a non-supervise, non-therapeutic approach doesn’t teach the real loosers anything, either.

That’s also why real drug therapy will have a counselor looking for a job, or working with a group that provides jobs for recovering addicts, to ease them into the 1st work market. The charity of Condrobs (German) does this, for one example: they rehab the druggies, then they teach them basic eletronics while dis-assembling electronic waste and selling the still-working repaired Computers etc. in a special shop in Munich.

Or alternativly: what will they give to society if the druggies recover, and if the people learn a new skill set? How well will the children turn out if the mothers have a chance to be home to raise them, instead of having latchkey kids because mum must work two 8 hr jobs plus commute to earn enough for food with the sub-normal wages?

No one? Really? That seems to me to be obviously untrue. Do I need to list examples of the types of people who are, in fact, unemployable at any job period?

If you meant to include only people who are relatively mentally and physically sound, then there’s a discussion to be had.


If you’re interested, go find out. I’m merely pointing out that some of the statistics being put forth are misleading for the purposes suggested in the OP. For many people, misleading statistics are worse than no statistics.

At something they’re willing to do (or, in the case of short-term unemployed, should do). Millions of immigrants keep coming to this country to take jobs that no Americans will take. Many Americans who won’t take these jobs are being supported by the government.

What might theoretically work or not is another story. What’s relevant meanwhile is the situation that exists today.

The context of this discussion is in the OP. “Leeching off welfare” vs “hard working”.

Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Sorry if that was unclear. (The context of this discussion was “welfare queens”, or at least those who make a way of life out of living off social programs. I don’t think a high percentage of these people are mentally and physically unsound, although of course, some are.)

So you aren’t interested in statistics, you have made your mind up?

Do you really believe that the job offerings counted by the labour statistics overlap significantly with the kind of jobs - gardener, fruit picker, house maid - offered to illegal immigrants under the table?

Do you believe that if for one job opening, there are 300 applications, that is healthy, or productive to finding work?

Do you really believe that it’s better to take the “job” of an illegal immigrant, even if the pay is below welfare or unemployment, and you can’t live from the wage? And before you counter that the immigrants manage: do you know how they manage? The kind of damp basements they live, or sleeping in their truck?

I don’t understand why it’s okay for the companies to turn huge profits by paying sub-standard wage, by splitting one full-time job into three small-wage jobs so three people have work but can’t live on it; but complementing these wages with tax money is not okay. Solving the problem by forcing the companies to stop this exploitative behaviour is not okay.

And strangely, the diction that the workers wages must always be lowered and competition is good for them and the company never applies at the other end - bankers who crashed their banks except for the tax bailout still get bonuses and huge wages because of the “good” work they are doing. So paying a huge salary means that you get the best of the best when talking managers, but paying a low salary means that you get the best of the best when talking normal workers. Doesn’t make any sense outside ideology.

I agree, and the number of lifers in the US right now is zero.

The TANF program has a 60-month lifetime limit. You have to work or be in a training program to receive it – same with food stamps. If you’re able bodied and don’t have kids, you can only get food stamps for 3 months out of 36. WIC of course is only applicable if you have kids under five. Unemployment has a time limit – I think in most state’s it’s cut off after 67weeks, while some go as high as 99 weeks. SSI disability does not have a time limit, but the amount you’re eligible to receive is based on how much you have put in – and you must have worked for five of the previous ten years. Medicaid does not have any time limits, but we can argue about whether that qualifies as a welfare program.

Am I missing any federal programs?

constanze, I’ve failed to follow your point with most of what you’re saying.

There are exceptions to both these rquirements.

That’s a huge “if”.

I agree that for an able bodied adult with no kids, welfare benefits in the US are fairly limited. The first part of being a welfare queen is having kids.

We can argue about all sorts of things. IMO it’s a welfare program.

HUD rent/housing subsidies.

Once you’ve already covered food, medical care and housing, you’ve already covered the major expenses a person has.

And why limit to “federal” programs?

I understand. Misleading statistics are defined as those that don’t match your preconceived ideas.

Now? Here’s one.

You have yet to demonstrate that such a creature exists outside your imagination. And as for my second paragraph, you have yet to demonstrate any percentage of people now on welfare being long termers, however that term is defined. You’d have to know the distribution of time on welfare to know this, but it hardly matters, because it is clear that most people who have been on welfare have been on it a relatively short period of time.