Why Do We Hate Poor People?
You don’t have to look further than our attitude toward health care to see it’s true. The United States does not recognize universal health care as a basic human right. This means we believe that if you can’t afford to pay for medical treatment, you deserve to die.
Our society is largely based on a Darwinian view of competition, where if you don’t have something it must be because you’re a lazy asshole who only wants to play video games and smoke crack all day long. The poor have been demonized and dehumanized when most of them just want to be able to turn on their heat in the winter and eat a sandwich when they get hungry.
Depending on the month (or study you look at), around two-thirds of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known by the more straightforward but less appealing title “food stamps”) are children, elderly, or disabled. Finding a number that shows how many recipients work while receiving benefits is more difficult. “Looking at work status among SNAP participants at a given point in time substantially overstates their joblessness…as large numbers of participants receive SNAP for short-term periods and work both before and after their stay on SNAP.”
Despite the fact that most people on these programs already work, many people (like Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director) simply say, “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work.” The assumption is that if you are on government assistance programs, you’re sucking off the teat of the American worker without contributing anything to society besides something to yell about when you’re getting a drink after punching out.
And sure, you’re going to have some pieces of shit that exploit the system. There are always going to be shitty people. You probably even know a couple at your place of employment who are technically part of the working public but don’t really do their jobs. That’s unavoidable. But to lump everyone into this untenable group does a disservice to the help the programs provide.
“Medicaid is among the most effective antipoverty programs.” To take it one step further, “Medicaid had a larger effect on child poverty than all non-health means tested benefits combined. It is estimated to reduce child poverty by 5.3 percentage points.”
Programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are doing undeniable good for people that need it. However, these programs are under constant attack because people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (which is actually an adynaton [I just learned a new word and I love it] because it’s meant to be impossible), go out there and get a good job, then buy the house on a half acre with a white picket fence. That’s the American Dream, after all, isn’t it? Let’s just ignore the fact that the middle class is disappearing and 44.5 million people are dealing with student loan debt and the shrinking availability of good paying jobs.
And this is why it’s not surprising that Trump announced a plan to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (there’s a lot of convoluted renaming, redistributing, and redirecting of funds but the bottom line is there are cuts to benefits). I don’t blame him, despite the fact that he pledged not to do it. He’s simply reflecting the animosity we hold toward those less fortunate than ourselves. If there wasn’t mass derision for people on government assistance programs, this desire to slash their benefits would’ve been weeded out by the voting public long ago. However, voters still agree with this sentiment (albeit most likely stoked by the government officials pushing these changes) so the river of contempt continues to flow.
Why do we feel this way? There are probably many reasons. First, no one likes to see someone else be rewarded for their work. Taxes taken out of your paycheck are just hands in your cookie jar and if those cookies go to someone who doesn’t need them, those are wasted cookies. Second, maybe it’s a bit of projection. Any of us could be poor. It’s a fine line between going to work and saying “fuck it.” So maybe we look down upon those less fortunate than us because they provide a real-life scarecrow from our own failures and grim possible outcomes.
Of course, universal healthcare is difficult to arrange. We’d have to overhaul our entire tax system in order to pay for it, plus the rollout would most likely be a disaster, but it’s not impossible. People love pointing to Canada as both an example of how it can work and how poorly it works. But are there other examples of countries with universal health care? Of course:
Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates
As we learned when the Trump administration was trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it’s difficult to take programs away from people after they have them. Disallowing insurance companies to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions seemed impossible as recent as 2005, but now people refuse to give it up. Setting up a single-payer system in the US seems impossible, but it’s only impossible until it happens. After that, it’s impossible to imagine a scenario without it.
But here comes the pessimism: I don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t think we can roll this boulder over the top of the hill because our country can’t decide on anything right now. Even if the democrats could rally behind a plan, the other side of the aisle would be a boiling cauldron of haunted snakes waiting to incinerate not only the paper it was written on, but also the poor soul who delivers it.
I think if we were going to have universal healthcare, we’d already have it. The fact that it doesn’t exist, to me, proves the unlikelihood of it happening, at least for another generation. Maybe once everyone my age and older finally dies out, the next generation can focus on creating a society based on something other than contempt and fear. It’s too bad my generation will have done too much damage to the environment by then so they’ll be too busy avoiding tornadicanes and massive droughtslides to have the wherewithal to write coherent legislation.