I don’t think these are new results, but this post about government social programs gave me a slightly new perspective on them.
The research shows that people who are receiving financial help from the government will, in significant proportions, report that they “have not used a government social program”. A quarter of people on food stamps or welfare, over a third of Medicare users, and fully half of those with student loans will deny that they’ve had any monetary support from the state.
Putting aside for a moment the problems of the underlying inequality behind the need for these programs, I think this study tells us something interesting beyond the extent of people’s ignorance as to the details of how these programs are run.
Many people have an idea in their head of what state hand-outs look like, and the kind of people who take them. It’s free money that the government gives to lazy moochers like them, having taken it right out the pockets of hard-working, decent citizens like us.
It might only be a minority who see things with quite so little nuance, but a similar attitude seems to be disappointingly prevalent. When thinking of government hand-outs, it’s apparently hard to see the recipients as being as fully human as ourselves, and as potentially deserving of help as we feel that we are, particularly when there’s a risk of our own financial benefits being taken away.
Nobody wants to see themselves as a moocher, but if you’re going to be consistent, it’s important to remember that other people have their own difficult circumstances to deal with as well. If you’re morally justified in accepting these benefits, then maybe the other people who receive help from these programs are human too.