My Life as a Welfare Parasite
I’ve gotten aid from government programs for most of the years I’ve been on this planet. Here an abridged version of my “dependency” story. I have estimated my total cost to tax payers in a table following.
First, My father died in an accident in 1974 while a graduate student at and in the employ of the University of Michigan. My mother and I qualified for payments under Workman’s Compensation. This benefit would last until I turned 18. We also qualified to receive Social Security benefits until I turned 18.
In a moment of insanity (sorry mom), my mother quickly married a drug addicted sociopath. I seem to recall that he had a job at some point, though the facts are probably as hazy as the Darvocets left him. Given that he liked to spend the household money on drugs, we never had much food. The Social Security payments and Workman’s Comp (and my mother’s later paychecks) were the only things that kept us even minimally fed. Even as an young child, I was conscious of this lifeline. One can certainly blame my mother, if one felt so inclined, but the fact is, at 5, I had nothing to do with it.
Second, in the Fall of 1989, my girlfriend and I discovered that she was pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an option, though we had no clue as to how to go about birthing, let alone caring for, a child.
My child’s mother was under 21 so we qualified for full medical care under Medicaid. The federal government and the State of Michigan paid 100% of medical costs at the University of Michigan Hospital. Naturally, we qualified for food assistance under WIC and Food Stamps.
Lastly, job prospects for near drop outs of Mississippi public schools (GPA: 1.5, priceless) were nil, even in 1990. Being literate and looking at a life of washing dishes, my only option was to return to school, which required the assistance of the federal and state governments. I worked my way up through publicly funded community college, and then the University of Michigan.
So here it is, as far as I was able to estimate:
This is, of course, incomplete. The government has also picked up the tab for the interest on my student loans, part of my graduate education was supported by a federally funded program, my wife receives financial aid as well, etc. etc. In total, my family and I have probably taken advantage of more than a quarter of a million dollars in government support. Neither I nor my parents ever made any significant financial contribution to offset this money (unlike programs like Medicare) prior to receiving it.
My point here, though, is that this money was not wasted (I hope). Without that support, my world (as trailer trash) and my education would have been impossible. Some of the reasons I’ve taken this road of serving the public good include the generous support I received from publicly funded programs. Knowing how people live at the bottom doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s easy to be cynical about the failures of government and difficult to recognize the successes of publicly funded programs. Efforts to improve the lives of the public through publicly funded programs can, and do, work every day. I also know that I’m not alone, having been surrounded by formerly impoverished individuals who now have gone on to productive careers.
In contrast to fostering “dependence,” public assistance has instead made me, and other low income students, wholly independent. Having an education behind me, I will never, ever need food assistance again. If I’m lucky, I will be able to partially forego income and medical assistance in old age. If I’m lucky, I will be able to leave a chunk of money in a small private fund to help out others like myself. At least that’s my hope.
So, I very much thank you, tax payers. I promise that your sacrifice will not have been in vain.
About Peter LarsonPost-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology
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