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Yes, welfare fraud exists. But not everyone on government assistance is a thief or a crook.
During the past three decades, the favorite conservative pastime has been throwing poor people under the bus. At every opportunity, they have stolen from the poor and lavished more wealth on the superrich. “Conservatives” have become nothing more than lackeys for the wealthy, while engaging in derogatory campaigns to humiliate our nation’s less fortunate.
The famous centerpiece of all this was the story of the “Welfare Queen”, the black woman in Chicago bilking the system while driving a pink Cadillac, used so effectively by candidate Ronald Reagan in 1976. This stereotype was used to characterize all poor people as lazy, dishonest, inferior and parasitic.
We should remember this concept served some very useful purposes for the super-wealthy. First, it was used as a rationale to promote the interests of the rich to a position of preeminence over the interests of the country at large. The “trickle down” theory starts with providing access to even more money to the already rich. The poor, like Lazarus, can eat the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich man.
Second, the “Welfare Queen” was a way to focus attention and anger of on the poor and minorities as the source of our nation’s problems—a perfect way to distract the gullible from the shameless robbery of the middle class.
Third, it was a “dog whistle” to Southern racists. Nixon had already learned you can win elections in the South by appealing to racist sentiment. The story of the Welfare Queen became a tailor-made racist fantasy just like the “happy slave” and the “sons of Ham” myths.
Of course, welfare fraud exists. The actual Welfare Queen, Linda Taylor, was sent to prison for defrauding the government of $8,000. The infamous “Octomom” was charged with defrauding the government of $28,000. These are small-time crooks. The true American parasites are international corporations who bilk the U.S. taxpayer for billions of dollars each year.
To meet the real welfare queens you don’t have to go very far. You’ve seen their signs: Walmart, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Target, Kroger, Sears, to name a few. These companies have been successful in privatizing their profit and socializing their labor cost. Their frontline staff earns poverty-level wages and only a small percentage of them have benefits.
At the same time they’re forcing their employees to rely on poverty programs, they’re paying huge salaries and bonuses to their executives. Walmart had income of $17 billion last year and paid its CEO $20.7 million. McDonald’s made $5.5 billion and paid $13.8 million to its CEO.
Right-wingers continually bash the poor as “too lazy to work” (see Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent comments). The truth is that 73 percent of those getting government benefits are employed, sometimes in more than one job. (Source: Allegretto, Doussard, et. al., ”The Public Cost of Low Wage Jobs”.)
Between 2007 and 2011, the U.S. taxpayer picked up the healthcare tab for 15.3 million working families. The total cost was $146.8 billion. While rewarding executives with Cadillac health plans, Big Business shows reckless disregard for their employees, leaving them to depend upon government programs for healthcare and other basic services, including all too often, food.
While the CEOs are buying Caribbean islands, their employees are standing in line to get food stamps. Nearly 14 million employees received food stamps between 2007-2011, at a cost to taxpayers of $33.5 billion. Because their wages were so low, 26.4 million workers received $58.5 billion in earned income payments. (Source: Allegretto, et.al.)
The total taxpayer bill to support working families during this period was an eye-popping $243.4 billion. The U.S. corporate freeloader is like having a useless brother-in-law that invites you to a fancy restaurant, orders the most expensive thing on the menu, stuffs himself with a seven-course meal—then leaves you with the enormous bill. Conservatives cleverly send us looking in the wrong place for social parasites. They tell us to look for pink Caddies—when the real thieves are hiding in the boardrooms and executive offices of international corporations.