The social safety net: Attitudes and values

The Pew Global Forum highlights a hefty paper by some folks at the New America Foundation (.pdf here) today on Americans’ attitudes towards the social safety net. There are enough facts in it that trying to summarize it here would be futile, but you can probably guess the results. Americans are less supportive of programs for the poor than their European counterparts. One of the most striking revelations is how much Republican support for taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves has declined, since the Reagan administration, but perhaps more interesting, since the end of the George W. Bush administration. Somehow, being in the biggest recession that most of us can remember led those who identify as Republicans to think we should support the poor less.

I won’t say I’m not baffled.

Though the study does not go into it, part of this likely has to do with the increased distaste for the national debt, a war that is raging in Congress right now with little end in sight. I’m not going to enter that fray or even link to the madness because I think it’s ludicrous and irresponsible, but you can google “debt ceiling” and see for yourself, if you like.

Reading the Pew survey reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad about Social Security. He’s eligible to collect benefits and is trying to decide whether to get on the rolls now or wait. He’s afraid that means testing will be implemented and then he will not be eligible, but starting to collect also means that he will not be able to work one or two days a week as he has done since he retired. Means testing turns Social Security into one of the programs for people who cannot take care of themselves, and if Pew is right, support for it will dramatically drop. Many of my father’s generation seem to be of the mindset that “I paid into Social Security; it’s my right to collect,” while many of my generation see a small chance of Social Security existing into the future (rightly or wrongly), and perhaps have tended to write off that portion of our incomes.

There is a lot more in the NAF report about the intersection of value and attitudes. It is worth a read.

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Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

3 thoughts on “The social safety net: Attitudes and values”

  1. I use to write off that portion of my income until I realized the ADDITIONAL amount they now take out since January is twice as much as what I put into my own retirement. Why am I forced to pay so much for others’ retirement? I wouldn’t need a safety net so much if they’d let me put that amount into retirement myself.

    It’s like stealing from the people who then become poor and need help, then giving them SOME of that money back and saying “See? You needed the government (who stole from you in the first place).”

    1. There’s a lot going on in your response, Craig. I think you demonstrate again the fundamental divide regarding the purpose of a social safety net. I’m not sure that Social Security is the most efficient use of your dollars, but there’s an equity/efficiency tradeoff somewhere. Thanks for reading.

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