A Story From My Dad

Let me tell you about my Dad, the greatest man who ever lived. Bear with me because I’ll get to the point shortly.

In the midst of the Great Depression my Dad contracted a disease called osteomyelitis, a bacterial infection of the bone. Today if someone contracts the disease they can usually be treated with antibiotics, but in the 1930’s my Dad had to suffer through a process referred to as “debridement” which has a surgeon opening access to the infected bone where it can be scraped and flushed. He had bones debrided in his leg, his head, his face, his arms, his hip…you get the idea.

When he was eight years old my Dad was in bed for about a year fighting that disease and when he finally recovered his right hip was out of socket. It remained that way until he died at age 74, so his right leg was about four inches shorter than the left requiring a “lift” on all his right shoes.  During his life he had surgery at least 36 times and every step he took from the time he was eight years old until the day he died was painful. He still taught me to play baseball, to hunt and fish, multiplication tables, and how to curse at appropriate times (this was likely unintentional).

He was the toughest, and most gentle, human being I’ve ever known.

The other thing you need to know is that he worked. Hard. He worked in a plant that bottled milk, starting as custodian and machine operator and retiring after almost 40 years as plant superintendent although doctors had offered him disability twenty years earlier. He finally retired because he just couldn’t continue walking on the concrete floor ten hours per day, but even after retirement he went back to the plant on Saturday mornings to answer the phone and take orders because he loved working.

When I was young I remember him telling some of his buddies a story, and that story has influenced my attitudes and my life. One day he had some trucks that needed to be unloaded but he didn’t have enough crew to unload them. He drove up town to the courthouse where he knew unemployed guys hung out, and he offered to pay these guys to come help unload the trucks. They responded that they didn’t need to unload the trucks because their “government check” was due the next day.

So here you had my Dad who was in pain 66 of his 74 years (but who NEVER complained once) offering healthy young men work, but they didn’t want it. This anecdote has always made me question the impact excessive welfare has on society.

I absolutely favor using my taxes to help those who cannot help themselves.

  • People who are severely handicapped either physically or mentally are welcome to my tax dollars because I offer them willingly.
  • I’m more than willing to help fellow citizens who earn too little to pay for healthcare because I believe people should have that access regardless of their income.
  • And I understand the capitalist economy and know that at any given time there are some people who just cannot find jobs, and I want to help these folks through the rough stretches.
  • And I know that a very large number of American jobs pay so little that folks holding those jobs cannot support a family, so I’m more than happy to help them as well.
  • I’m also happy to provide free breakfasts and lunches to kids in schools just because some of those kids come from homes with too little food.

You get the idea. I’m more than willing to help my fellow Americans who need my help. I’m glad I am in a position to pay those taxes.

I’m less enthusiastic about supporting my fellow citizens who are capable of working but are unwilling to do so. People who are capable of working sometimes game the system and consequently give other Americans a negative impression of “welfare” programs.

To be clear, the number of folks abusing the system is almost certainly pretty low, but:

  • According to federal law, to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients must either work, seek work, engage in job training, or volunteer between 20 and 35 hours per week. In 2013, the last year for which data are available, only about 1/3 of adults receiving TANF actually met these standards. In that year more than half of TANF recipients were completely idle.
  • There is fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Some fraud exists in the Medicare program.
  • Fraud is a problem with the Earned Income Tax Credit that gives larger tax refunds to those with lower incomes.

It is estimated that more than 10% of welfare payments either result from fraud or other improper welfare payments. That is more than $70 billion per year.

But I think there is more to this issue than dollars lost. It is time to re-think our notion of welfare and who is eligible to receive it. I’ve known people who were able to get disability benefits while simultaneously working for cash under the table. I’ve had people try to sell me their food stamps for cash. I’ve known couples who avoided marriage because it would impact benefit checks.

Some of our policies result in a culture of dependency. Thankfully this culture is not pervasive, but I believe it is corrosive.

Before my liberal friends start deleting me from Facebook and unsubscribing to my blog, read this from former President Obama:

“I think we should acknowledge that some welfare programs in the past were not well designed and in some cases did encourage dependency.… As somebody who worked in low-income neighborhoods, I’ve seen it where people weren’t encouraged to work, weren’t encouraged to upgrade their skills, were just getting a check, and over time their motivation started to diminish. And I think even if you’re progressive you’ve got to acknowledge that some of these things have not been well designed.”

Our social benevolence has actually created a culture of dependency and entitlement rather than one promoting self-reliance and independence. Everyone in a society should contribute to that society according to their ability and some of our policies make it possible to avoid doing so.

I wish people gaming the system had the chance to meet my Dad.

And don’t get me started on my Mom who retired at age 74 and at 89 still volunteers more hours than many Americans work.

3 thoughts on “A Story From My Dad

  1. I agree with your views completely. I imagine the statistics from my home state are worse than the 2013 national stats you quoted. I’m often conflicted when it comes to giving/gifting to those less fortunate for fear of enabling.

    I too am thankful I can pay taxes and even more thankful to have come from hard working parents who instilled in me strong work ethic, which in turn was passed along to my son. In my view Work ethic and values can most always be traced back generationally.

    Tough topic, thanks for tackling it.


  2. Culture of dependency indeed. Thanks David for tackling the topic. I apologize for being a little long winded. I live in Mississippi. We receive more federal funds than most other states. Welfare is one of the states largest expenditures. We are one of the poorest states in the country. If the government every stops sending us funds, I’m sure we can close up shop. With that being said, as a teenager, Mississippi is not where I planned to live my life. The grass is always greener somewhere other than where I am. Life however had other plans. I ended up in health care. How that happened will take a lot more typing and time. My goal was to play music the rest of my life. Needless to say God had a plan and it was not my plan. One of my favorite teachers in high school said to me after learning I was in health care, “so you want to help people, because if you do not want to help people, you need to find a different career”. So, I get to help people everyday and I love my job. I work with a lot of the poor, underserved population: those on welfare and government assistance. I like that David tells a story about his dad in the beginning of the post and I think that there is a relevant underlying contrast in the environment in which David and I were brought up and those in the poor, underserved community. Ok, so I get to tell my Mr. Roebuck story. (I don’t know how I can remember something that happened when I was 14 or 15 years old and I cant remember where I put my cell phone). As David has stated, his Dad had a disability. it was an effort for him to walk. I never heard him complain. He worked every day, was active in the community. To this day, I have not met another person with his will and determination. On to the story. David and I were hanging out at David’s house, probably listening to the latest CCR single or the latest Beatles album. ( you young guys don’t know the anticipation of waiting for the new Beatles vinyl, the album cover, the credits, oh my). Mr. Roebuck had better plans for our time. He loaded us up and carried us down to the plant where he worked. I got an education that day from a man who knew everything about everything that went on in that building. My dad was the same way. He started his career at the bottom and worked his way up. had children, bought a house. If he missed work, you knew somebody died. I say that to ask this: what is the difference in how we were raised and those in the poor government assisted population. And before white privilege is brought into the conversation, let me assure you that poverty does not discriminate based on race, sex or age. I was brought up living in the American dream,( although we didn’t know it at the time) the little southern town, good schools, intact family. We assimilate to the environment around us. Welfare is around 50 years old. We have generations of people that know only that way of life: government dependence. According to the 2017 census, of the 12 million single parent families with children under the age of 18, 80% were headed by single mothers. A large portion of these are living in poverty, on government assistance. In my personal observation, a majority of these mothers are either under educated or at most have a high school education. If they have 2 children, and make minimal wage, child care cost more than they will make plus their welfare benefits will be reduced or eliminated. They are trapped. the system is broken. You have a system where you are penalized for working. I have never believed that government office or welfare recipient should be a career choice.

    • Thank you for the comment and for the story about my Dad. I needed to hear it today.

      I’m not sure how we correct the current culture of dependency, but I do believe it is one of the problems bringing us down. Of course from my perspective, having spent 40 years in higher education, I think education or job training are a large part of the answer. But then again we have generations of families who have not valued and do not value education. It is honestly a conundrum but it must be addressed.

      I hope all is well with you, old friend.

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