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I think that we've stopped talking about poverty and started talking about dependency, including dependency of welfare (and other benefits). This is part of the whole culture of poverty arguments that have a lot of play still in policy making and in the public discourse, even though it is treated with plenty of skepticism from academics and social scientists.

This discussion of dependency leads to attitudes like this:

We can reduce dependency on government and focus benefits on those who are truly needy. For example, by including work requirements and promoting marriage (being raised in a married family significantly reduces a child's chances of being in poverty), we'll help rekindle the American Dream for everyone.


Truly needy? What does this even mean? That not only do we not examine economic inequities in our country, including our lack of taxation of the rich but rather blame the poor on our fiscal problems, but that we use a vague idea around the "truly deserving" to guide social policy.


That allows for a variety of things that makes for bad policy since it becomes about morality and not about what is most likely to demonstrably improve the quality of people's lives. For example, we end up focusing on the undeserving, people's whose lives are easily scrutinized and picked apart— we vilify people in the criminal justice system, people with mental illness, people who are not white, people whose first language is not English, people who are single parents, first generation college students or anyone attempting social mobility—anyone who doesn't fit into the narrow structure of what is considered to be white, middle class Christian morality. And making "welfare dependency" the central problem with poverty is using a construct that is so intangible, meaningless and problematic that it steers us away from promoting good and effective policy. It also ignores the effects of the actual problem, in that most of the (legitimate) issues tied to welfare dependency is actually more of an effect of the constant stress and trauma of being poor.

If I had one great wish in the US is that we'd talk more about conquering poverty and less about our need to police the poor.

Image from Oxfam article discrediting the culture of poverty.

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