Right about now, the conservative noise machine is cranking up with the “Oh Ye Dirty Socialists” song. They look at plans to make health care available to the masses, and the apoplexies start. They complain that liberals want to give people services they do not pay for. They call such programs “gimmes for people who do not contribute.” They never stop to realize that we pay for them anyway.
Below a certain income level, it is impossible to contribute. A single parent whose job skills put them in a minimum-wage job is in a pickle. A woman who cannot afford daycare cannot work. A person cannot afford daycare if it costs as much as he or she makes. In New York State, according to National Association of child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, a woman making minimum wage of $6.55 an hour ($13,100 annually) cannot afford the average cost of daycare for an infant, which is $13,437 annually. This same person would spend an average of $10,500 for rent. What is such a person supposed to “contribute”? More to the point, how is this person supposed to live? The basics have already consumed almost twice as much as he or she can make working full time.
There are ways to cut corners to make the money go further, but a single parent at a minimum-wage job is between a rock and a hard place. Health insurance? Fuhgeddaboudit. These folks take their sick kids to the emergency room, then they get a bill, which goes with the other bills they cannot pay. Then the “contributing” members of society pick up the tab by paying $75 dollars for an aspirin during a hospital stay. It seems like a high price to keep from giving someone access to a regular doctor because they cannot pay the cost of insurance.
In the absence of outside help, the person in a minimum-wage job must find a way to survive that does not include leaving the child in a regular daycare. For some, this involves leaving their children with their own parents. Is it wise to burden an entire generation of grandparents with providing daycare for their children? What about grandparents who have jobs themselves? What about children who have lost their grandparents? For others, it involves leaving their children in unlicensed facilities, or simply staying home with them and collecting welfare. Children in substandard childcare situations are more likely to get hurt, sick or be mistreated. Why not give people help with childcare? People who don’t worry about their children are more productive at work.
These people live wherever whatever money they have left after daycare will get them, often in places “contributing” members of society would prefer never to see, much less inhabit. Children who live in substandard housing are exposed to dangers “contributing” members of society would never tolerate in their own homes. They are more likely to be hurt at home. Others live in government housing, affectionately known as “the projects.” They get a healthy dose of humiliation with their housing.
The new budget increases Pell Grants, those need-based grants given to students for tuition for college or trade school. Hear the conservatives howling about the welfare state? They do not want to hear that increasing the amount of a person’s education increases his or her earning power, but it is true. People who make money pay taxes. People who do not make money cost taxes. The likelihood of incarceration also falls with increasing education. Incarceration costs taxpayers anywhere from $10,000 to $37,000 per year per inmate. Why not pay for education? Most liberals (the word means “free”) would rather pay to help people be free than pay to keep them locked up.
The conservatives call all this socialism. It is not socialism.
With conservatives in power, we decided that no misery was unacceptable. People who could not afford to eat and buy their medicine were welcome to choose one or the other. This is uncivilized. The years of conservative gutting of programs that help the poor decreased our productivity. The programs that were so cheerfully and proudly slashed by Reagan and the Bushes amounted to pocket change in the federal budget, but they never advertised this. In fact, they often claimed that they were saving hundreds of millions of dollars. The lie came in the fact that $100 million in a $300 billion budget is 3/10ths of 1 per cent. When conservatives complain about taxes that pay for such things, they really have no idea what they are talking about. Social welfare programs that help people improve their circumstances create more contributors.
Programs that are designed to maintain a minimum standard of living allow people to be productive and to contribute. Keeping people off the tax rolls by refusing to fund programs that help them help themselves is self-defeating.
National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies: http://www.naccrra.org/policy/recent_reports/