Republican glee at suffering poor terrible to behold
The monstrous farm Bill the House of Representatives passed last week shows its mean-spiritedness
In fact, Snap usage tends to track broad measures of unemployment, such as U6, which includes the underemployed and workers who have temporarily given up active job search. And U6 more than doubled in the crisis, from about 8 per cent before the Great Recession to 17 per cent in early 2010. It’s true that broad unemployment has since declined slightly, while food stamp numbers have continued to rise – but there’s normally some lag in the relationship, and it’s probably also true that some families have been forced to take food stamps by sharp cuts in unemployment benefits.
$134 a month
What about the theory, common on the right, that it’s the other way around – that we have so much unemployment thanks to government programmes that, in effect, pay people not to work? (Soup kitchens caused the Great Depression!) The answer is, you have to be kidding. Do you really believe that Americans are living lives of leisure on $134 (€102.60) a month, the average Snap benefit?
Still, let’s pretend to take this seriously. If employment is down because government aid is inducing people to stay home, reducing the labour force, then the law of supply and demand should apply: withdrawing all those workers should be causing labour shortages and rising wages, especially among the low-paid workers most likely to receive aid. In reality, of course, wages are stagnant or declining – and that’s especially true for the groups that benefit most from food stamps.
So what’s going on here? Is it just racism? No doubt the old racist canards – like Ronald Reagan’s image of the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy a T-bone steak – still have some traction. But these days almost half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites. In Tennessee, home of the Bible-quoting Fincher, the number is 63 per cent. So it’s not all about race.
What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological mean-spiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea Party, called “losers.” If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help: they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold.