Conservatives have largely stood against welfare programs for decades. Before condemning all social safety nets, however, conservatives must ask themselves what they are conserving, if not the people in this country.
America is not just a government and the land over which it rules, but more importantly, it is the people that live, work, and raise families here. And sometimes, those people need a helping hand. The social safety net, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment benefits, is that helping hand.
Too often, conservatives rail against these government programs. They say they are unconstitutional, mismanaged, expensive, and ineffective.
No one would claim that the welfare state in this country is managed perfectly. At its core, many people receive aid that don’t need it, and many who need it don’t receive it. This problem is not a symptom of the programs, but rather, how they are administered.
The social safety net often catches those who came to this country illegally. For example, there is no requirement in the state of Michigan to be a citizen of the United States to apply for unemployment benefits.
But it isn’t just illegal immigration that is putting a strain on our social safety net. Legal immigrants often arrive in this country destitute and unemployed. In fact, the Center for Immigration Studies reported in 2018 that 63% of non-citizen families access welfare programs.
Other forms of mismanagement such as fraud occur, but they are not endemic to the system. Just because some people lie in order to receive benefits doesn’t mean that the entire system should be shut down. That hardly sounds just. This mismanagement is no large problem at all, and can be solved if those citizens receiving aid are required to prove their need.
The U.S. government spends nearly $3.5 trillion on programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That sounds like an exorbitant amount of money. But consider the fact that the United States is a nation of some 330 million people. We are also the most productive and wealthiest nation in the world. We have a lot of people and a lot of money.
Conservatives, it would seem, are content to spend trillions of dollars on foreign wars, subsidizing the welfare state in other countries through economic aid, and aggrandizing the military-industrial complex. The Iraq War itself cost nearly $2 trillion dollars. The Afghanistan War is pushing $2.5 trillion.
For many conservatives, ensuring every child in America has something to eat, the elderly have a means to live, and the working class can get by is too much to ask.
The fact remains that we are a wealthy people. Our GDP shows we are able to support our poor, but what we spend our budget on shows that we ought to be more willing to do so.
Conservatives complain that the welfare state is ineffective. Social Security is a ticking time bomb, they say, and government-run health care kills people. The unemployed should pick themselves up by their bootstraps before they go running to the nanny state for a handout.
Conservatives do have a point on the mismanagement of these systems. But if any aspect of the social safety net is ineffective, it is because it is being mismanaged. It is not because these programs are inherently flawed.
Social Security is going to go belly-up because Congress has tapped into the retirement check for millions of Americans to fund our adventures in the Middle East. Government run healthcare is a bigger beast to tackle. We don’t have universal healthcare. Instead, we have Medicare and Medicaid. These services simply provide government money for private, or quasi-private, healthcare providers, and they have no measurable effect on the quality of the coverage provided.
Unemployment benefits are not supposed to replace an income long term. They are there to help those out who have lost their jobs. They allowed me to eat and sleep when my dad lost his job during the Great Recession.
Though there is no constitutional basis for a welfare state, it’s certain that the social safety net has provided support to countless Americans who have fallen on hard times. The system is imperfect and mismanaged, but it is necessary to conserve the poorest of our American people.
Conservatives get caught up in buzzwords, catchphrases, and meaningless platitudes. We forget who really matters: the American people. We can toil away as guardians of the Constitution and the Declaration for as long as we wish, but if everyone is starved, destitute, and sick they won’t care much about our country’s past or future, only their present.
Conservatives need to get on board with a social safety net or be content in losing election after election. The American people are the only people who care about our founding. If we aren’t doing what’s necessary to ensure their continued existence and prosperity, it won’t matter how dearly we hold the founding because there won’t be anyone left who cares about it.
Luke Grzywacz is a senior studying politics.