Perhaps one of the most famous (and offensive) myths perpetuated by financial conservatives is that all of those who receive government assistance in the form of welfare checks or food stamps are either lazy, addicted to drugs and alcohol or both. Today, we are going to evaluate how absurd and ignorant this view is.
While we wish we lived in a world where poverty was simply an impossible situation to end up in, this is sadly not the case. Moreover, we find that once someone unfortunately finds himself or herself in this sad state of financial ruin, it is incredibly difficult to get out. Economists call this phenomenon the “cycle of poverty.” The cycle is simple: poverty, unless intervened on from the outside, is more than likely going to continue.
It makes sense formally in theory and intuitively in practice. Think about it: imagine you’re already living day to day on your paycheck, struggling financially in every sense of the word. One day, you’re doing laundry, and your washing machine breaks. Unable to afford a new one, you’re going to have to go to a laundromat to clean your clothes. But it takes a dollar to wash your clothes, and another dollar to dry them. When you’re living a life of “every dollar counts,” and you have to sacrifice some of those dollars to clean the clothes you wear to your minimum-wage job, you’re only digging yourself deeper in the poverty hole.
Well then, why don’t they just stop digging and jump out? Why not change the circumstances? If you’re in poverty, it’s not likely you’re going to have time (busy working several jobs) and money (especially now that you’re down two dollars every week just to do laundry) to educate yourself, allowing you to segway into better job opportunities. Now imagine being born into such a situation: Financial ability and social “ascension” are nearly impossible. People who are victims of these circumstances will probably live their entire lives as victims.
Now that we’ve established the nature of poverty, let’s assess the other half of the question: the agents of poverty. It’s not uncommon every now and then to hear legislators drafting up potential laws that drug test welfare and food stamp recipients because of the belief they are taking advantage of a “handout.” It ought to be known that very recently, a year-long study of welfare recipients in Michigan found that drug testing clients does not yield positive drug results.
This study was started when, in 2014, a law was passed in the state requiring recipients suspected of drug abuse to be tested. In the three counties where the study was done, 443 received or applied to receive government assistance. Of that 443, only 27 were suspected of drug abuse. Of those 27, only 14 actually got screened. Ten were receiving treatment through Community Mental Health, and three had their cases closed after the “suspicion” was ruled to be unwarranted. Of those 14 people who were actually forced to test, only one welfare recipient yielded a positive result.
The reality is that painting broad strokes of “lazy and addicted” on those who receive government assistance is nothing more than a testament to your own lack of understanding of this issue. It seems all the evidence cited in casual conversation is nothing more than a narrative of “Well, I know someone,” anyway.
So with a new administration taking office in a little more than a month, think about how much of your hard-earned tax dollars they can waste by implementing such a misguided and ridiculous plan. Instead of trying to reinforce the cycle of poverty by spending money senselessly in drug tests, let’s break the cycle and invest in our future via something worthwhile like public education.