Note to readers: Realize prior to reading this post that this is somewhat of a rant and that I am aware the following is anecdotal and is not evidence of the behavior of an entire class of people, although I do believe it to be more common than uncommon.
In my writing it may seem as though I have an axe to grind against the poor. And to some degree, it’s true, I do. But not the poor as an economic class of people. I have a certain amount of contempt for the able-bodied poor (See: Political Hokey-Pokey). Those who could work, but choose not to. They have no shame in living off the back of the taxpayer by means of government assistance: SNAP, Section 8, energy assistance, and various other forms of welfare programs.
My line of work takes me into one of the more poor neighborhoods in the city. Working for the USPS seven and a half years, and two and a half years on my current route, I know how many residents receive government assistance and which programs they use, and there are a lot of them. I have frequent interaction with many of my customers because so many of them are home during the day, and for the most part they are nice people. A large percentage of the same households that receive multiple government benefits, own newer cars with what I know to be expensive wheels. Nearly all of them are cigarette smokers ($8+ per pack in this area), and several yards are littered with lottery scratch tickets. I could go on but these are but minor points to my overall back-breaking straw.
Yesterday one of my customers whom is a smoker of cigarettes (and other substances popular among the neighborhood) wondered if I had a package for her. I asked if she had been waiting long for it, just a question I ask in order to assess whether it should have arrived by today. “No” she said, “I’m waiting for another one of those free phones.” By “free” she means the taxpayer-funded program which provided at no charge cell phones to low-income families. I deliver between 2-5 per day on my route. Bear in mind I delivered a “free” phone to her last week. But she went on, “I got the one from last week in my daughter’s name”, her daughter is about 5 years-old, “this one is for my son” who is even younger.
Of course I cannot express my disgust at what she has just admitted to – not that I am concerned about a complaint to my supervisor — rather, I have to be in this area daily and I’d rather not have to worry unnecessarily. But this woman is a couple of years younger than I am and she is able-bodied. I know this from frequent conversations. She has been receiving unemployment for a little over a year after quitting her job upon hearing unemployment benefits had been extended to 96 weeks. She is actually a pleasant person to talk to, and she offers drinks in the summer.
I wish I could say this is atypical of the able-bodied poor, however, it’s going to be difficult to convince me that the neighborhood I observe daily is the only one like it. This person didn’t think twice about admitting to me she was gaming the system — and at my expense no less! It just rolled off her tongue as though it’s normal to scam the system. I am not going to argue about how some of these kinds of people ended up where they are, because regardless of the path that led them there, they don’t need to remain (See: Fair Enough?). But I hear and see this on a regular basis, and no one is ashamed to admit it. So if it sounds like I hold the able-bodied poor in low regard, it is things like this which have pushed me there.
On a tangent, I have a family member who gamed the CD companies who used to offer 5 CDs for a penny as long as you purchase a few at regular (inflated) price over the next year by using every combination of her three kids first and middle names to get hundreds of CDs without fulfilling the terms of the offer. They and their spouse have both been unemployed for decades.