They’re Not On Welfare

There’s a woman in Chicago… She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands.

— President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1976)

… This legislation provides an historic opportunity to end welfare as we know it and transform our broken welfare system by promoting the fundamental values of work, responsibility, and family.

— President William Jefferson Clinton (August, 22, 1996)

All I’m trying to do is restore some balance to our economy so that middle class families who are working hard – they’re not on welfare, they’re going to their jobs every day, they’re doing the right things by their kids –they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while.

— President Barack Hussein Obama II (March 18, 2009)

It’s unclear what possessed President Obama’s intimation at welfare recipients as lazy, selfish, uncaring bums, but the suggestion that they are not “working hard,” or “doing the right things by their kids,” is a cruel and mean one. The characterization of poor single-mothers, who coincidentally live a life dependent on food stamps and other government subsidies, as irresponsible narcissists is surely no new phenomenon. One need only look to Ronald Reagan, two decades ago, and find ample relief in his infamous description of financially-disempowered Black and Brown females as, Welfare Queens. Obama’s high-fiving of the ‘Great Communicator’ is, sadly, unsurprising, for one who has praised Reagan at every step possible.

In the heat of the ’08 presidential campaign, last year, Obama couldn’t contain his admiration for the man whose economic policies successfully demolished the dignity and dreams of a whole generation of people: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.” Obama went further in his praise of Reagan, for eliminating “the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s.” A couple of days back, on St. Patrick’s Day, Obama again drew inspiration from the man many—and they are certainly in no short supply—have compared to the devil, on numerous occasions.

Whether Obama understands this or not, the demonization of welfare recipients has to STOP! As long as the narrative of laziness remains affixed to the character of this group, the right-wing’s war on poverty (the war to perpetuate it) would have foot soldier in the White House—an ally in the most powerful man in the world. Another notion, as it relates to Welfare, that deserves death by a thousand execution squads, is the premise that Black and Brown single mothers are the major recipients, and thus, welfare is but another Affirmative Action-esque ‘handout,’ which must be eliminated, to enforce personal responsibility on these communities. Every legitimate study shows that White women are, in fact, the overwhelming beneficiaries of welfare programs. This detail is not meant to bash economically handicapped White women, but rather, to put to bed, once and for all, the lies concocted by the right-wing, in attempts to abolish the safety net which has held many families intact, for the last few decades.

In 2000, when Obama enacted a run for Congressman Bobby Rush’s Congressional seat, the then-relatively unknown State Senator sought to convince inner-city Chicago constituents, which Rush represented, that he was not the Ivy League, Harvard educated, Hyde Park snub Rush’s campaign had depicted him as. Unfortunately, the charge stuck to him, like a lapel pin, and many Black and Brown residents had a hard time seeing the faces of their struggle in Obama’s eyes and promises. Bobby Rush, the former Black Panther, won handsomely, and without breaking a drop of sweat.

Obama might not have to worry about those claims lingering any longer, but, as every politically-astute observer knows, old ghosts come haunting back—chickens come home to roost. If Obama keeps up his antics of lambasting poor Black mothers for feeding their kids Popeyes Chicken remnants for breakfast, and asserting that a “good economic development plan for [the Black community] would be if we make sure folks weren’t throwing their garbage out of their cars,” it wouldn’t be such a tough sell, next election cycle, for his opponents to argue that, perhaps, the populist President isn’t so populist after all! It might not be so hard to propose that Obama, himself the child of a food-stamps recipient, has forgotten were he came from.

Obama’s remarks, though intensely troubling, might be just the wake-up call progressives could have only dreamed of. In the mid-‘90s, when Bill Clinton fulfilled his solemn vow to “end welfare as we know it,” many Clinton supporters were unable to reconcile the actions of the then-popular president, to the promises—of equality for all—he had made on the campaign trail. In his reflective book, Death Blossoms, political prisoner and prophetic leader, Mumia Abu Jamal described Clinton’s “legislative obscenity” as a “chilling” plot, drafted to dash “the hopes of millions of the poor, all in order to protect his political ass.” Brother Jamal, as always, was right on target, and the question now looming larger than ever, is if Obama might be considering a relative “legislative obscenity,” which might come in handy, in the event of a need to “protect his political ass.” The prospect might look improbable, but history informs us of the moral obligation to remain combat-ready at all times.

Tolu Olorunda is a writer and cultural critic currently living in Detroit. He is also author of The Substance of Truth (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2011), a collection of essays on education, culture, and society. His writing has appeared widely online and in print. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Tolu.

25 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lenore Daniels said on March 20th, 2009 at 10:25am #

    Thank you for writing this article and commenting on this disgraceful statement by President Obama. He made another one last night on Jay Leno’s show. In a discussion about his poor bowling score, he referred to his performance as one for the “Special Olympics!” His administration had to apology to the head of the Special Olympics this morning.

    Obama is in the clouds with his friends on Wall Street!

    Thanks for point this out.


  2. Don Hawkins said on March 20th, 2009 at 11:24am #

    I know a little off subject and unless we get started on this welfare will be everyone.

    Protest and direct action could be the only way to tackle soaring carbon emissions, a leading climate scientist has said.

    James Hansen, a climate modeller with Nasa, told the Guardian today that corporate lobbying has undermined democratic attempts to curb carbon pollution. “The democratic process doesn’t quite seem to be working,” he said.
    Speaking on the eve of joining a protest against the headquarters of power firm E.ON in Coventry, Hansen said: “The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.
    “The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I’m not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we’re running out of time.”
    Hansen said he was taking part in the Coventry demonstration tomorrow because he wants a worldwide moratorium on new coal power stations. E.ON wants to build such a station at Kingsnorth in Kent, an application that energy and the climate change minister Ed Miliband recently delayed. “I think that peaceful actions that attempt to draw society’s attention to the issue are not inappropriate,” Hansen said.
    He added that a scientific meeting in Copenhagen last week had made clear the “urgency of the science and the inaction taken by governments”.
    Officials will gather in Bonn later this month to continue talks on a new global climate treaty, which campaigners have called to be signed at a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December. Hansen warned that the new treaty is “guaranteed to fail” to bring down emissions.
    Hansen said: “What’s being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated.”
    He said he was growing “concerned” over the stance taken by the new US adminstration on global warming. “It’s not clear what their intentions are yet, but if they are going to support cap and trade then unfortunately i think that will be another case of greenwash. It’s going to take stronger action than that.” Guardian uk

    Put your boots on and think of this as kind of a war.

  3. rosemarie jackowski said on March 20th, 2009 at 11:47am #

    Beating up on the poor is a major pastime in the US. About ‘single mothers’ … I have not seen a bright star shining in East, so I don’t think there are any ‘single’ mothers. There are only mothers who need compassion and financial help from the fathers of their children (often born within a marriage), OR support from society in general (the government). As a nation, we have not yet decided on that issue. Meantime, mothers (and an occasional father) and children suffer.
    Thanks for the article. Its about time someone said what Tolu said.

  4. Doug Page said on March 20th, 2009 at 12:39pm #

    It appears that Obama’s 2 years as a community organizer in Chicago had little impact on him. His choice to surround himself with bright, but out of touch with reality, advisers will soon reduce us all to poverty. His class bias is not only insensitive, but it is deadly in terms of actual results for us.
    We must mobilize, thrust our pitchforks and beat our pots and pans to turn him and Wall Street serving Democrats around, or we will truly be in a “depression greater than the Great Depression.” Far Greater. Think about the fall of the Roman Empire. His distance from our reality is well illustrated by his appearance of a late night comedy show when he should have been at home studying history and economics until late into the night.

  5. rosemarie jackowski said on March 20th, 2009 at 1:27pm #

    Doug – got it right when he said, “…His class bias is not only insensitive, but it is deadly in terms of actual results for us…” That might be the most important statement made on the Internet in a very long time. It also explains why 18,000 die in the US every year from lack of access to health care. It’s all about class, money, and greed.

  6. lichen said on March 20th, 2009 at 3:47pm #

    This reminds me of the Francis Moore article I recently read in counterpunch, which talked about a city in Brazil which really was able to tackle it’s hunger problems in constructive, equitable ways (i.e. ones that the the stupid presidents mentioned in the article above have not brought up.) Otherwise, there is no such thing as “welfare,” there are only human rights; a nation denying any citizens shelter, healthy food, clean water, free healthcare, and safety is guilty of human rights violations, and it’s politicians should be interred at the hague.

  7. Don Hawkins said on March 20th, 2009 at 4:47pm #

    Doug I agree that Obama and many more need to be reading and thinking outside the box late into the night. I think after this summer and next a new way of thinking will be with us. So far many including the President are trying to hold onto that old way of thinking that got us to this point. That’s called insanity but they are trying it anyway. It looks to me very tuff times ahead to say the least. This is not going to be boring and put those boots on we will all need them.

  8. Deadbeat said on March 21st, 2009 at 12:42am #

    Ms. Jackowski writes…

    There are only mothers who need compassion and financial help from the fathers of their children (often born within a marriage), OR support from society in general (the government).

    The attack on working class men by working class women won’t yield, the solidarity needed in order to fight for real welfare for all. Apparently Ms. Jackowski swipe at dads ignores the fact that the architect of “welfare reform”, Tommy Thompson, was able to first attack welfare by attacking men on the dole as “able bodied”. By eliminating any benefits for men Thompson was able to “reduce” the welfare role. Also Reagan was not only referring to “single women” but is image of a welfare queen was a BLACK woman. As we have seen, “feminist” only really are concern with the economic plight of WHITE upward mobile women.

    Thus it is extremely disingenuous to insinuate and to implicate working class men for the plight of working class women when both are facing attacks on their standard of living. In fact it has been shown that MEN are facing much of the cutbacks in employment during this crisis.

    “Feminism” needs to alter itself and start to offer a more CLASS and RACE perspectives that lends itself to building real solidarity.

  9. Hue Longer said on March 21st, 2009 at 8:27am #


    I get that you maybe don’t pay your bills because you can only afford to feed your mouth and your ex is capable of taking care of your kid/s without the help that you can’t provide anyways and is using the system to punish you for whatever reason (I may be wrong, but I believe you explained your moniker in the past)…I see your point about welfare reform which forces people to slave without compensation whether they be men or women but no fucking way do men have it worse in general and dismissing Ms. Jackowski’s acknowledgment that some men suffer too and leveling charges of racism against her is far fucking out. I think everyone struggling who can’t pay for their children deserve the utmost support from society but your unwarranted appeal doesn’t seem to add up to that.

  10. HR said on March 21st, 2009 at 12:47pm #

    Obama is doing about as should have been expected. If people had actually listened to what he said during the campaign, they would not be in the least surprised at what he is doing now that he has been elected. The words, hope and change, were nothing but cover for his real agenda: preservation of the status-quo. Sadly, they were the only words his supporters heard.

  11. Gus said on March 21st, 2009 at 9:14pm #

    I agree about the demonisation… it’s just a PR technique. To attack a small minority of offenders, to damage the whole group.

    Take internet censorship. You’ll see all manner of politician stand up and make speechs about sexual predators. They’ll say we need to protect the children. Of course, it goes without saying they don’t give a damn about the children, or else they would have funded schools and hospitals. No, they can introduce internet censorship to crack down on areas that interest their corporate lobbyists, music piracy, copyright infringement, dominating the flow of information towards their companies and away from small sites, etc.

    Same with welfare. Some fat cats want to privatise and exploit the welfare system, devour it, and do what they do… get rich by harming a lot of people. (Iraq War). But first they have to convince people that it’s necessary. They have to sell the idea to the people. And for that you need your ultra special force commandos to go in first… the PR people.

    So they’ll introduce these points slowly into the media, targeting a tiny handful of welfare cheats, build anger until the majority believe the lies. And they’ll pay loud mouthed jerks on the radio to champion it and attack the defenceless. And then the fat cats will snatch it, carve it up, and make what was society’s safety net now something to profit from at the expense of those the economic conditions these same assholes created left jobless.

    It’s disgusting.

    Ignore the PR bullshit. Ignore their corporate talking points. They are all vultures, and they’re bleeding the country out, until it is too weak to resist.

  12. rosemarie jackowski said on March 22nd, 2009 at 9:05am #

    Deadbeat… I did not mean “a swipe at dads”. Sorry that you interpreted my comment that way. I, more than most, admire dads and understand their importance in the development and well-being of children – not only their enormous financial contribution. However, the facts are as they are. Many children need government assistance because some dads do not contribute to the welfare of their children.

    My point was, that as a nation we should decide who has the responsibility for meeting the needs of children. As things are now, for many children, no one accepts the responsibility. I know too many homeless children – some with loving, involved dads, and many without.

    As founder of the original ‘Justice for Children’, I always support the rights of dads and in fact have always given the advice to mothers of children to never interfere with (and in fact to encourage) visitation by the dad – whether or not he was in arrears in child support. The only time I advised mothers to violate a court order for dad’s visitation was in the rare case when a dad showed up drunk and safety was an issue.

  13. Max Shields said on March 22nd, 2009 at 10:23am #

    On the topic of children, justice and caring and upbringing in the US, it has always been “tricky”. It appears the US population is growing in leaps and bounds, but the numbers reflect unwed mothers are having more children.

    I’ve brought this issue up in other contexts – Palestinian population growth. Some have suggested that growing populations reflect an attempt to gain control over ones life. Child bearing is certainly one form of creation and control. It frequently backfires for a number of reasons.

    That said, the facts are, as Rosemarie points out, what they are. And those facts must be faced. From a purely communal perspective, a child should be integrated into the community (this includes education and the capacity for children and young adults to be actively engaged in the community). The community, in turn, needs to care and foster a sense of heritage. In other words, recipriocity is key. Children learn as much if not more for peers and their environment that any system of education – another example of why Obama’s minister of education is off in Alice’s Wonderland with 24 X 7 school buildings.

    A community built from the inside out provides optimal education and nurturing. This does not leave the parenting to the community, but assures that human beings are not orphaned. The cost of orphaning children is very significant, even if one does not buy into the justice aspect (something that should in and of itself be sufficient). By “orphaning” I mean letting them “fend” for themselves. When children are not integrated into the community in meaningful and productive ways, the community breaks down as it has in the USA.

    Someone wisely said that the best reducers of crime are not police but parents, relatives and neighbors. These are the ones that guide and nurture.

  14. rosemarie jackowski said on March 22nd, 2009 at 10:52am #

    Max…I like what you say. There should also be some focus on the ‘orphaning’ of adults, especially the elderly. There are growing numbers of adults who are left to fend for themselves, even in serious medical situations. I have tried to organize “The Celestine Project”, named after a friend who died alone. It would match up people who have no family support with others who have a compassionate heart. My efforts have not been successful. It seems that the USA has a shortage of empathy. Check out my article “A Death on Valentine Street” on this site.

  15. rosemarie jackowski said on March 22nd, 2009 at 10:54am #

    Here’s the link.

  16. lichen said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:39am #

    Children do not have to be “integrated” into communities which do not respect their rights (per the UN Committee on the rights of the child, which makes corporal punishment and all degrading and humiliating treatment illegal,) or communities which openly despise, wish to condescend to them and subject them to cruelty. Children have the right to decide where they want to go, what they want to learn on any given day, and what they want to do.

  17. rosemarie jackowski said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:54am #

    lichen…I agree, sort of. How would you deal with a situation, in which a child bullied another child? Maybe some limits to behavior are acceptable? Too many innocent kids are being beaten up on school playgrounds. Sometimes the playground bully grows up to become an abusive spouse.

  18. Max Shields said on March 22nd, 2009 at 12:31pm #

    lichen, I’m not sure what evil society you are describing. A nurturing community is what I had in mind, not some slave trade.

    The description is not meant to be utopian, and I agree that whether one looks to community or big government there is always an extreme element which can undermine the best of intentions.

    But I would simply ask, if “children have the right to decide where they want to go”, what exactly does that mean when someone is 3, 4, 5 or 8 years old? Go where?

    My point lichen is that the problem cannot be solved by a 5 year old. Where to go after 5 years on the planet is a pretty heady thing. Still that that child should not be forced to live in a threatening or hostile environment goes without saying – no? How does this work in a community where not only the child is integral, but the parents and household the child lives in is as well. Is it better to be wandering around, disconnected from the community?

    These are no simple questions with simple answers, but surely the idea that we fend for ourselves is basically what we have NOW. Communities have disintegrated, “elders” dare not caution a child for fear of reprisal, children stay locked up inside, disconnected from the community, obesity sets in, schools are simply warehousing, and the child, again is left alone to fend for him/herself.

    We have lost our way lichens. Child rearing should not, in my opinion, assume abuse. Abuse should be an exception that finds a resolved not the basis for how we live. It is fear that engulfs us now. That’s hell on earth.

  19. lichen said on March 22nd, 2009 at 5:33pm #

    Rosemarie, children are bullies on playgrounds because they’ve been mistreated physically/emotionally at home in similar ways. Teachers, parents, and other adults should not allow children to bully other children, however, solving the problem has to look at the cause, not bring about another punishment and definitely not a physical one. The way to stop people from forming abusive relationships as adults is the same way; prevent abusive relationships from forming in families where children are the most vulnerable and can be easily (and much more dangerously) bullied by the adults. When children are brought up with respect given to their emotions, and with kindness and attention (not neglect,) they don’t become bullies, or violent people.

  20. lichen said on March 22nd, 2009 at 5:46pm #

    Well Max, you didn’t specify a nurturing community, and you seemed to be implying this evil society that we live in – that I grew up in, in right-wing America where certainly a great proportion of the community openly disliked children and especially adolescents. When I said ‘where they want to go’ I meant in conjunction with the descriptions of ‘free schools’ I’ve read about, where for instance children can form groups to study/explore some subject, and either do it at the school or out in the community. But it is also true that if a child prefers to sit at home and read a book, play a video game or otherwise, I think that is also their choice.

    Child-rearing certainly has been openly abusive for centuries (and corporal punishment is always abusive, of course); if you look back fifty years ago in America, schools were nothing more than a place where children were paddled and forced to memorize things, and communities were parasitic, intrusive right-wing bigoted-christianity driven enclaves. So, I certainly don’t mourn for days past, which it sounds like you do. I definitely agree with building new, better communities with direct democracy and advanced human rights – and that has to include children’s rights to. It has been over 30 years since Sweden was the first nation to illegalize all corporal punishment, emotional abuse, and cruel, degrading, humiliating treatment of children, and much of the world has to catch up. Because the problem certainly doesn’t take care of itself, and child abuse is extremely prevalent in the US.

  21. Tree said on March 23rd, 2009 at 7:02am #

    Lichen, quite often children are bullies because they are little shits. They sense a “weaker” child and go after them. They are not from abusive or neglectful families. I think to describe all bullies that way is wrong as it denies human nature.
    I worked at a daycare and saw children as young as 3-5 creating cliques, making fun of other children and isolating other children because 1) they could 2) they got away with it and 3) they saw other children as “different.”
    These children were not abused or neglected, they were more than likely encouraged to be that way by parents who think, for an example, that how one looks is more important than how one acts.
    I tend to think it’s more important to teach the children being bullied how to stand up for themselves in a positive way and not allow themselves to be bullied, rather than try to change the bullies, of which there are plenty. One can talk to a child about accepting difference until one is blue in the face and it doesn’t make a dent.

  22. bozh said on March 23rd, 2009 at 7:35am #

    it may be better to say that kids became “shits”. as we know, labels don’t explain anything and a dysphemistic label self abuses/bullies.

    now the question arises how people/kids ‘learned’ to avoid eye contact; why/how are they selective to whom they speak; whom they help; who they choose to yell at or command them to do s’mthing, etcetc.
    and not to mention how they ‘learned’ to kill/beat/exploit people.
    to me, some behaviors may be innate; genetic part playing a role and aping playing another role. tnx

  23. Tree said on March 23rd, 2009 at 7:53am #

    Bozh, “little shits” was a mean term, I know. It was based on their behavior, whether innate or learned. I love children but they are not to be taken lightly and the behavior of a 5 year old can also be the behavior of a 40 year old.

  24. rosemarie jackowski said on March 23rd, 2009 at 11:45am #

    In evaluating any human behavior it is important to consider genetics. The theory that we can create any kind of a person we want just by controlling the environment has been solidly disproved. The brain is a magnificent part of the body, but it is affected by virus, chemicals, the environment, genetics, and many other things. Some of the best families around have had a murderer in the family. The family of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, is one of many examples. Another fascinating case is that of Christopher Porko. He was from a model family. He was convicted of leaving his college dorm in Rochester, NY and driving to Albany to hack his parents to death. Only his mother, though badly injured, survived. I challenge anyone to see the film clips of Christopher and his mother going into the courtroom and not recognize a serious personality disorder…possibly Borderline Personality Disorder – which is now believed to have a genetic cause.

    Another famous case involves a family that had Huntington’s Disease. The gentle and loving husband/father was changed into a very cruel person by the disease. Ultimately the sons also developed the illness. The mother had promised to never put them in a nursing home. Eventually she had no choice. Their suffering there led her to kill both of her sons – an amazing legal case. Even the prosecutor felt sorry for the mother because he knew how she suffered for many years because of her husband and sons illness.

    All of the love and nurturing in the world – which of course are very important – cannot change genetics.

    Sometimes a bully, is just a bully.

  25. lichen said on March 23rd, 2009 at 1:15pm #

    Actually, yes, environment does influence and even change genes. The fact that violence, cruelty, abuse, and hatred only come from those things as experienced by a vulnerable young child has been proven. Alice Miller’s famous book, For Your Own Good; hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence, now available to read free online, will give much insight to anyone who is interested: . And yes, children who are physically and emotionally bullying others have been bullied themselves, primarily by adults who wish to define their beatings, shouting, insulting, confining, and forcing as something other than abuse, and wish to cloak it with lies about genes, which also serve the feminist movement that wishes to spread lies and smears against the male sex and refuse to see their victimization as children.

    “Children throughout history have arguably been more vital, more gentle, more joyous, more trustful, more curious, more courageous and more innovative than adults. Yet adults throughout history have routinely called little children “beasts,” “sinful,” “greedy,” “arrogant,” “lumps of flesh,” “vile,” “polluted,” “enemies,” “vipers” and “infant fiends.” Although it is extraordinarily difficult to believe, parents until relatively recently have been so frightened of and have so hated their newborn infants that they have killed them by the billions, routinely sent them out to extremely neglectful wet-nurses, tied them up tightly in swaddling bandages lest they be overpowered by them, starved, mutilated, raped, neglected and beat them so badly that prior to modern times I have not been able to find evidence of a single parent who would not today be put in jail for child abuse.” – Lloyd Demause

    “The evolution of culture is ultimately determined by the amount of love, understanding and freedom experienced by its children. Every abandonment, every betrayal, every hateful act towards children returns tenfold a few decades later upon the historical stage, while every empathic act that helps a child become what he or she wants to become, every expression of love toward children heals society and moves it in unexpected, wondrous new directions.” -Lloyd Demause