In the immediate aftermath of the election, I suggested to readers that the key driver in Barack Obama’s re-election was one particular sub-group of the electorate in which Romney got creamed. I pointed to single mothers as the key group that killed any chance of a Romney victory, and the reason I suggested was simple enough to understand: “Free stuff.” In short, this particular segment of the populace views big government as a “sugar daddy,” and by extension, it’s chief advocate, Barack Obama was the chief beneficiary of this view. I had known that the number of programs and benefits available to women who fit that description was quite amazing, but I had no idea the extent to which this is true. The simple truth of the matter is that unless and until conservatives devise a method by which to change this formula, they are going to lose national elections. The problem they will face in so doing is the screed of the left about a “war on women,” but apart from weak-kneed leadership, afraid of such attacks, if something doesn’t change, the country is already lost.
The following image is a chart put together by James Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute, and it demonstrates how a single mother is subsidized by the state, or how Eve, once tempted from her pedestal, became a ward of the state:
The first thing that should strike you is that a single mother of two earning only $29K is subsidized to the extent that she has the same effective lifestyle as a similar woman, unsubsidized, earning $69K, because net, the two have around $57K in income and benefits. Effectively doubling her meager gross by virtue of the welfare state’s programs, the woman earning $29K is in pretty good shape. People have lamented to me over the years about people who use foodstamps, but who also load their groceries into awfully nice cars, and the question had been: How can this be? Here’s part of the answer, inasmuch as relieved of the costs of food, medical care, and a tax burden, among other welfare-state benefits, what income is present is freed-up for the purchase of that nicer car. It’s no wonder she has an iPhone 5, because under this construct, she can afford it, since taxpayers are subsidizing to some degree virtually everything else.
Leftists and those of the moderate middle wonder why we conservatives claim that such programs are a disincentive to work, but the facts make it clear. What is the point in bettering oneself if it actually can be a detriment to income, as the chart above makes perfectly clear. At certain thresholds, by earning the next marginal amount, benefits available drop off to the extent that it’s punitive to earn more. This explains well why in certain lines of work, we have the phenomenon of women roughly matching the description, who quit or get themselves fired once they’ve been there a certain period of time, and it’s because they need to keep earning, but they also need to prevent themselves from crossing these thresholds, or “welfare cliffs.”
The challenge to conservatives is to reverse this without being accused of waging a “war on women.” The first thing we need to admit is that such a situation is a travesty, both to the women trapped by this process, and to those who are working outside the blanket of this lavish welfare state. It should never be the case that our people are faced with the choice of placing reason in adversity to morality. Let me try to explain it this way: If you’re that woman earning $29K, you’d be nuts to earn enough money to push you over the cliff. It would diminish and damage your lifestyle, and the lives of your children. At the same time, you would [hopefully] know that to continue to languish on these programs is wrong, but when you look around, you notice everybody around you is doing it, so how wrong can it really be?
This dichotomy is the difficulty we face. We have provided this system, and it is entirely socialistic. Viewed from a big-picture perspective, it’s constructed precisely to create a very socialistic outcome: The net wages and benefits are flat from wage or salary levels of $29K to nearly $70K. The woman who earns $29K is the economic equal of the woman who grosses $40K more. This is an astonishing revelation to many people, who had no idea how thoroughly perverse with socialism this system had really become. Is there any wonder that welfare-to-work initiatives have failed in recent years, to the largest extent? Is there any wonder that job training programs seem to have been largely fruitless?
It’s easy enough to identify the problem once you have the facts before you, but then the question becomes: Whatever shall we do about it? If Congress simply slashes these benefits, they fear they won’t be re-elected, but if they don’t do something soon, they won’t be re-elected anyway because this will have become the daily reality for far too many people to ever reverse it. The problem is that if we don’t reverse it, it’s going to bankrupt us, and that day is coming all too soon. All of this subsidization is being accomplished with borrowed money, and it simply is not sustainable. It’s always difficult to convince people that their best long-run interests are better served by giving up a little in the shorter run, and the evidence is quite obvious when one examines how few people ever put money away for retirement or savings in any form. Part of the reason they’re unable is because the money they’re earning today is being taxed to subsidize others, so that the total effect of this problem is much worse and much more widespread than the superficial conclusions one might draw.
We need a real, thorough examination of our welfare state, but under the current administration, we’ll be lucky if we can merely restrict its growth. This administration knows where its bread is buttered, and it’s not going to yield any ground on this without a brutal fight. The truth may be that this has already doomed us to a financial and monetary collapse of epic proportions. When that happens, it won’t matter any longer because this will come to a screeching halt, and both the single mothers in this scenario will pay a terrible price along with every other American. The left has worked very hard to dissociate any stigma previously attached to such subsidies, so we’re going to need to make more than a financial argument, because this is a problem in largest measure of desperate moral concern. We need adults in the room, but right now, Congress is acting as the elves in Obama’s portrayal of Santa Claus, and the states have become the sleigh, Rudolph, and his eight four-legged friends. It must stop, but in truth, one way or the other, it will stop. The question is whether it stops in a sudden crash, or instead because we decide wisely to apply the brakes. The choice is still yours.