Poverty Consciousness

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When conservatives discuss welfare entitlements and poverty the conversation tends to be a rigid exercise in moral abstracts and pre-conceived absolutes buried beneath a ruble of convoluted anecdotes, inconsistencies and conjecture. This conventional thinking routinely over-estimates the size, costs and demographics of TANF and SNAP benefits (cash assistance and food stamps) to mythological proportions and demonizes the poor with vague characterizations of undeserving laziness and free stuff. Any effort to share a broader perspective is immediately misinterpreted as a nefarious attempt to undermine conservative philosophy. The reality however, is that a family of three who relies solely on TANF qualifies for an average monthly benefit of about $750 or $9,000 annually, less than $8.00 per person per day. The costs to support TANF is $31 billion annually or about .07 percent of $2.9 trillion in federal spending. SNAP demographics don’t fit the Republican stereotype any better. 91% of recipients are working poor households with a family of three earning at or below $19,000 annually or $1,628 a month, which qualifies for an average monthly benefit of about $258, less than $1.40 per person per meal. 76% of SNAP households include a child, an elderly or a disabled person. The federal cost to support SNAP is $52 billion annually or about 1.5% of federal spending. Unfortunately, even when faced with this data and the realization the facts contradict outdated notions, conservatives maintain an illusion of knowledge that exposes their pretense and utter lack of experience associated with the challenges of public housing, food assistance and living wages. The willingness to recognize our cultural tradition of equating wealth with virtue and poverty with personal failure begins to separate the myth of rigid absolutes, judgment and morality from the stark reality of poverty, stigma, food insecurity, racism and opportunity.

     

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