Georgia: Scapegoats and Resentments

By Marti Keller and Lane Goldberg

Vol. 18, No. 1, 1996 p. 6

The rhetoric surrounding the current debate over welfare reform plays on the growing insecurity in the U.S. today, appeals to our desire to find simple solutions to complex problems, and encourages us to seek scapegoats to bear the blame for the problems confronting our country.

In Georgia, a survey commissioned by Senator Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) revealed that many Georgia voters have great misconceptions of federal government spending. For example, of the six hundred respondents, a full 20 percent said that the government spends most of its money on welfare and food stamps. In reality Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and food stamps amount to about 2.4 percent of total federal out-lays.

Rhetoric driven by misinformation deceives the American public and obscures substantive issues which must be addressed. It ignores the fact that the majority of welfare recipients are children. Most significantly, the leading proposals for welfare reform, if implemented, will victimize our children. In fact:

  • One-fifth of American children and more than three hundred thousand Georgia children are poor.
  • The maximum monthly AFDC check for a family of three in Georgia is $280, to be used for rent, child care, transportation, clothing and other non-food, non-medical expenses.
  • There is no state in the U.S. in which AFDC and food stamps combined bring a recipient family up to the poverty line: in Georgia, such families reach only 46 percent of the poverty level.
  • A parent working full time for the federal minimum wage of $4.25 per hour earns $7,438 per year, 40 percent below the poverty line for a family of three.

Any effective welfare reform efforts must begin to deal with the systemic roots of poverty. Serious proposals for reform must deal with the lack of available jobs as well as the fact that many individuals lack education and training critical to helping then find and maintain employment. A living wage is also a necessity. It is unacceptable that anyone should work full-time and still be unable to meet even their most basic needs.

If we refuse to invest in our families, not only will we continue to see our position in the world economy decline, but we will face the intensification of problems associated with poverty such as crime, substance abuse, births to teens, and underemployment. The money we might have spent to support our families and our economy will (as is frequently the case now) have to be spent to combat these social problems. The fears, anger, and resentment that have become woven into the fabric of our society will continue to grow and to disempower us and our children will disproportionately endure the consequences.

We have a choice: we can continue to allow our fears and our insecurities to guide our welfare policies or, with courage and forethought, we can begin to accept realities and try to change them constructively.

Keller is the former executive director and Goldberg is a policy intern with the non-profit Georgians for Children.