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What Chris Christie Doesn't Understand About Welfare

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I've never seen a less optimistic time in my lifetime in this country, and people wonder why. I think it's really simple. It's because government's now telling them, stop dreaming, stop striving, we'll take care of you. We're turning into a paternalistic entitlement society. That will not just bankrupt us financially. It will bankrupt us morally. Because when the American people no longer believe that this is a place where only their willingness to work hard and to act with honor and integrity and ingenuity determines their success in life, then we'll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch, waiting for their next government check. -- Chris Christie, 2012

Meet my dear friend, Dylan.

Dylan's an unemployed pothead who spends his days playing Grand Theft Auto and smoking a three-foot bong. Dylan dropped out of Dartmouth in 2012. He's also a welfare recipient.

Chris Christie holds people like Dylan responsible for our nation's problems. It's nothing personal. It's simply incomprehensible to Governor Christie that a young, healthy, educated individual like Dylan would stop dreaming, stop striving, and start depending on government checks for survival. More than anything else, Governor Christie detests the social welfare system for supporting Dylan in his pursuit of idleness.

You see, from Governor Christie's perspective, social welfare threatens to aid the unworthy poor. It's Governor Christie's understanding that social welfare weakens the work incentive, thereby perpetuating Dylan's complacency and that which is commonly associated with the able-bodied poor. It's not Governor Christie's intent to blame the poor for their condition. Nevertheless, he's a firm believer in the American Dream. He refuses to support the dependent poor, insisting instead that they find ways to help themselves.

What Governor Christie doesn't understand is this. Dylan's an exception to the social welfare system. In fact, Dylan's about as atypical a welfare recipient as one could imagine.

Yet, as far as Governor Christie's concerned, Dylan still receives a monthly welfare check. So in Governor Christie's mind, Dylan's lumped together with all other welfare recipients. Unfortunately for them, my freeloading-stoner-friend gives all welfare recipients a bad name.

The fact is, for the vast majority of eligible recipients, social welfare provides temporary, and not permanent, relief. Recent studies show that children from welfare families are not disproportionally prone to go on welfare when they establish their own households. In other words, most eligible recipients don't want to be on welfare. They need to be. And once the majority of recipients cease to depend on welfare checks, they typically make use of the checks no longer.

According to historian Michael B. Katz of the University of Pennsylvania, between 1960 and 1980, the proportion of Americans living in relative poverty declined by a substantial 60 percent. The explanation for the decline, however, had little to do with economic prosperity and everything to do with social welfare. Over the 20-year period, Katz estimates, social welfare programs reduced poverty levels at a rate of six times faster than economic growth.

Still not convinced?

Meet my other friend, Sarah.

Sarah's a 19-year-old single mother who spends her days raising a special needs child and her nights working a graveyard shift for minimum wage. Sarah dropped out of high school in 2012 to care for her daughter. She's also a welfare recipient.

Sarah's ex-boyfriend neglects to pay child support and Sarah can't afford to chase him down or hire a lawyer. She's therefore forced to work for anything and everything that she and her daughter need. To supplement Sarah's $7.25 hourly pay, she receives one welfare check each month, the majority of which is drained by rent and utilities. Once Sarah exhausts her food stamps, she's left with $9 for everything else: diapers, pacifiers, soap, etc.

Sarah recently enrolled in night classes, which end shortly before the graveyard shift begins. Ask anyone who knows her. Sarah's a hardworking student and dedicated employee, devoted to securing a higher quality of life for her daughter. Welfare is by no means Sarah's one-way ticket to the high life. Rather, it's a meager resource on which she and her daughter currently depend.

Blaming Sarah for Dylan's laziness is like blaming the passengers of Flight 175 for the September 11th attacks. Accusing Sarah of being complacent, engaging in criminal behavior, or milking the welfare system, is like charging the Boston Marathon runners for the atrocities committed against them.

What Governor Christie doesn't understand is this. Historically speaking, government antipoverty programs haven't weakened the work incentive. On the contrary, welfare has provided the temporary lifeblood that Sarah, her daughter, and thousands of law-abiding citizens like them depend on, not for convenience, but for survival.

What Governor Christie doesn't understand is this. In the social welfare system, there will always be people like Dylan who unapologetically cut the line. But Dylan's actions should in no way affect the quality of Sarah's life or that of her daughter. It's utterly inhuman to believe that any person deserves pain or deprivation just because Dylan cashed his welfare checks to buy a new bong.