“I’ve never known anyone who would rather live off welfare than earn their own living.”
This essay was published several days ago by IronMikeMag.com.
Since we’re currently embroiled in a national debate about unemployment benefits…
Not surprisingly, most conservatives aren’t too sympathetic to the idea of extending unemployment benefits. Less surprising, most liberals are. I keep seeing articles and social media posts describing conservatives of being uncaring, evil or selfish for opposing unemployment extensions. While I can understand why some people support extending unemployment benefits, I’m also getting a little annoyed with all the “those conservatives are selfish bastards” stories. So for what it’s worth, here’s my opinion. This opinion is about entitlements in general, not just unemployment.
Many years ago I arrested a well-known dope dealer, “Sammy”, in the small town where I worked. Sammy was in his early twenties, tall and thin, and could have been an Olympic sprinter. He had outrun almost every officer on the department. Several times I had turned corners and encountered him by chance; he would immediately sprint for the nearest fence, vault over it in a second and be out of sight before I could even call it out on the radio. And Sammy wasn’t just fast, he was cunning. Maybe not book smart, but street smart. Smart enough to sell a lot of drugs and almost never get caught.
One day we were notified Sammy had a felony probation violation warrant. That’s nice, I thought. Unfortunately we’ll never catch him. But a couple of nights later I turned a corner, and there he was. He saw me, the escape reflex kicked in, he started to step off into a sprint. Then he apparently realized, I don’t have any crack on me, so he just stood there. He didn’t know he had a warrant.
I pulled up beside him, threw the car in park, jumped out and grabbed him. He was shocked. He went to jail without a fight.
At the jail I asked him standard questions for the arrest blotter. Address, phone number, next of kin, and so on. When I got to “occupation”, I jokingly asked, “Hey Sammy, what kind of work do you do?”
Sammy answered, “I get disability checks a month!”
I remember giving him a curious look. I knew he was an unemployed dope dealer, and I was just being a smartass when I asked the question. I also didn’t understand what the hell he was trying to say.
“I get disability checks a month!”
Very slowly, I asked, “Are you saying you get disability checks every month?”
He answered, “Yuh!”
“Sammy, you are the fastest human being on earth. You’re in better shape than most professional athletes. What’s your disability?”
“I can’t work!” he blurted. “I can’t get along with the boss man. My lawyer got me disability.”
That conversation was, to say the least, illuminating. I had no idea someone could receive disability just because they’re too undisciplined to work.
Later, in that same town, we had repeated problems with a family living in a housing project. The father worked, mom stayed home with the teenaged kids, they all got snot-slinging drunk every weekend. They had a satellite dish in their front yard, at a time when satellite TV was rare and not cheap. They went through cases of beer and had lots of parties. During one party mom stabbed dad under his arm, hitting an artery. While dad was at the ER, maybe about to die, and mom was under arrest, maybe for murder, the kids kept asking the officers on the scene if they could get the blood-smeared cans of beer in the roped-off crime scene. When officers pulled down the tape, the first thing the kids did was rush in, wipe blood off beer and continue drinking.
Our tax money was supporting that family. Without welfare, could they have afforded all that alcohol?
Years later, in the late 90’s, an officer I worked with told me about a call he was on at a housing project. About three in the morning there was a fight. When the officer showed up he encountered a crowd cheering the fighters on. One of the people cheering was a healthy woman, about 40 years old, who we knew pretty well. She wasn’t a real troublemaker, but every time there was a late-night fight or shooting (which was several times a week), she’d be out there drinking a beer and enjoying the show.
Since the woman was a witness to the fight, the officer interviewed her. During the interview, he asked her, “Why do you just hang out here every night? Shouldn’t you have a job or something?”
The woman very calmly asked him, “Officer, how much money do you make?”
The officer told me he was surprised by the question. But he gave her an honest answer: his salary was about $38,000 a year.
She answered, “Well, I make almost as much as you do. And I don’t do nuthin’.”
I once participated in a raid on a crack house. The owner of the house was about 60. His house was disgusting; no electricity or running water, trash everywhere, roaches scattering at our approach, holes rotted through the floor, buckets full of urine and feces in the kitchen. An officer asked him, “How can you stand to live like this?”
The man answered, very articulately, “Officer, I have no stress. I don’t have to work. I get free food. I get free money. If I want crack, I let a dealer use my house to deal from, and he gives me free crack. If I want sex, I let a crack whore stay here and she lets me have sex with her. I have no stress at all.”
As years went by, and I met more people who seemed perfectly capable of working but received welfare, disability or unemployment instead, I came to resent the entire system. In my case, as a cop and soldier I literally risked my life to earn a not very big salary. And some of that salary was taken from me and used to support people who were just plain lazy or, even worse, career criminals. These criminals were running the streets all night stealing cars, burglarizing houses, robbing and even killing people. They were able to run the streets all night because they didn’t have to be at work in the morning. They didn’t have to work because we give them free places to live, free food, free medical care, and free money. They have the basics, they don’t have anyone telling them when to get up or where to be, they don’t have to do anything unpleasant like manual labor. They have no reason to even look for work.
No, not every welfare or unemployment recipient is like that. In the same complex as the drunken family I knew another family who were all employed, never got in trouble, and were trying to work their way to a better life. Some welfare recipients are worthy, but some of them sure as hell are lazy scam artists. The President has said “I’ve never known anyone who would rather live off welfare than earn their own living.” Apparently the President never met some of the people I have.
No, I’m not against all forms of welfare, unemployment or disability. My daughter was born on Medicaid, because at the time I was a rookie cop making $600 a paycheck, and health insurance would have cost me literally half my pay. I just couldn’t afford it. A few months later I switched to another department and got a significant raise, and got off Medicaid even though I was still eligible for it. I didn’t consider it an entitlement I should hang on to for as long as possible. It was temporary help that I paid into before I used it, and have paid into since.
I don’t have an issue with welfare or unemployment when it’s used to help a deserving person through a tough time. Anyone can have an accident, get sick, or lose their job through no fault of their own. A woman who chose to stay home and raise her children while her husband supported the family can unexpectedly become a widow. People who work hard and save every penny can fall victim to changing economic fortunes. Few of us have so much money put away that we can sail through any crisis without help.
But welfare and unemployment don’t just go to decent people who get sick, or stellar employees who show up at work one morning to find the doors chained shut. Sometimes, far too often, those benefits go to people like Sammy, or the family of drunks, or the crack house owner, or the woman at the housing projects. Unemployment benefits can go to people who choose to do nothing, because it’s easier to party all night and sleep all day than get up early and commute to a job they don’t like.
Yes, the examples I’ve described are anecdotal. Liberals will cite studies that prove 99.99999% of people on welfare/disability/unemployment are desperately struggling to get off entitlements and support themselves. People like me won’t believe those studies. I would really like to believe them. I wish I was wrong about this. I hope the number of people scamming the system is infinitesimally small compared to the number of deserving recipients. I hope I’m completely wrong when I say that among parts of the population, anyone who doesn’t cheat the system for unemployment or other benefits is considered an idiot, because it’s so easy to do.
But I can’t believe I’m wrong about this. Because my own lying eyes have convinced me otherwise.
Filed under: Writing | 26 Comments
Tags: unemployment, veteran writers, welfare