White peo­ple use food stamps too

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Cyn­thia Tucker Email Cyn­thia Tucker at cyn­[email protected]­thiatucker.com

We are not who we think we are. Amer­ica is not the land of un­lim­ited op­por­tu­nity, not the home of the free and the brave, not the shin­ing city on a hill. In­stead, it is a trou­bled na­tion spurn­ing its more no­ble tra­di­tions, stir­ring the caul­dron of racial and eth­nic ha­tred and turn­ing its back on those who didn’t have the good luck to be born wealthy.

Even if vot­ers rise up to de­feat the cor­rupt nar­cis­sist in the Oval Of­fice, the na­tion will still be in trou­ble, hav­ing al­lowed the gap­ing wounds of race and class to fes­ter for far too long. Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump’s cultish base of aging whites is fear­ful of de­mo­graphic tides, anx­ious about cul­tural change. But many of his vot­ers also fear los­ing their eco­nomic foot­ing, and they in­cor­rectly blame their lack of op­por­tu­nity on im­mi­grants.

Glob­al­iza­tion cer­tainly plays a part in the cur­rent econ­omy, but greed also plays a ma­jor role. Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians and the wealthy ex­ec­u­tives who sup­port them have tram­pled the la­bor unions that had helped to boost a broad mid­dle class. The wealthy have also cob­bled to­gether a tax struc­ture that en­sures the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

While Trump glo­ries in an un­em­ploy­ment rate that sug­gests a buoy­ant econ­omy, closer in­spec­tion pro­vides a much more dis­tress­ing pic­ture: The haves have al­most ev­ery­thing. Just take a look at a dis­turb­ing re­cent report from the Brook­ings Foun­da­tion: “Meet the Low-Wage Work­force.” It found that nearly half (44%) of all Amer­i­can work­ers toil in low-wage jobs: “They earn me­dian hourly wages of $10.22 and me­dian an­nual earn­ings of $17,950.” That is stag­ger­ing.

As you might ex­pect, those low-wage work­ers tend to be less ed­u­cated, lack­ing post-sec­ondary train­ing. And, yes, many of those work­ers are black and brown. Work­ers of color are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented among low-wage work­ers, given their num­bers in the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

Even so, most of those lowwage work­ers are white. The report states: “Low-wage work­ers are a racially di­verse group, and dis­pro­por­tion­ately fe­male. Fifty-two per­cent are white, 25% are Latino or His­panic, 15% are black and 5% are Asian Amer­i­can.” Many are the very white vot­ers who would tend to vote for Trump be­cause they don’t un­der­stand the forces that have made their lives pre­car­i­ous.

While pol­i­cy­mak­ers seem to think of the work­ing poor as la­bor­ers who clean com­mer­cial build­ings or work as or­der­lies in hos­pi­tals, job clas­si­fi­ca­tions such as re­tail sales gen­er­ate mostly low-wage po­si­tions. You can work very hard at any of those jobs and still find it dif­fi­cult to make ends meet.

Yet, Trump has just an­nounced a change in the rules for ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram — com­monly known as “food stamps” — that is likely to toss nearly 700,000 peo­ple off the rolls. The rule change will make it more dif­fi­cult for states to waive a re­quire­ment that “able-bod­ied” re­cip­i­ents work at least 20 hours a week in or­der to re­ceive as­sis­tance for more than three months.

Ask any hourly la­borer — in­clud­ing your neigh­bor­hood barista — whether his or her em­ployer guar­an­tees 20 hours a week of work. The an­swer is likely to be “no.”

How did we come to this? How did we get to be so mean­spir­ited? Why is it that a na­tion as rich as this one re­fuses to pro­vide a few meals for peo­ple who can­not af­ford them?

Un­sur­pris­ingly, racism is part of the an­swer to that ques­tion, too. For decades, politi­cians, pun­dits and the news me­dia have painted the so­cial safety net (ex­cept So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care) as a web of pro­grams that ben­e­fit mostly the black and brown poor. That por­trayal has led eas­ily to a wide­spread be­lief that food stamps and Med­i­caid, for ex­am­ple, as­sist only lazy, able-bod­ied black and brown folk who will not lift a hand to help them­selves.

Those per­cep­tions are, of course, at odds with the facts. Gov­ern­ment data show that white peo­ple make up the largest share (52%) of peo­ple lifted from poverty by safety-net pro­grams, while black peo­ple make up less than a quar­ter of that group. Still, some po­lit­i­cal sci­ence re­search has sug­gested that whites would rather miss out on a stronger so­cial safety net than share any of its ben­e­fits with their darker fel­low ci­ti­zens.

This, un­hap­pily, is the real Amer­ica.

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