The able-bodied poor, and my disdain for them

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.


  1. Marshall Art says:

    There does seem to be a joy in receiving something for nothing, without considering that someone else is indeed paying for it. There seems to a common practice of “gaming” all sorts of situations. It go from doing what was described in your post, to taking longer lunches on the job than is allowed. I know a guy who had damage to the rear end of his car. He had in hand an estimate to get the damaged repaired by a body shop. While awaiting his appointed time, he got hit again in the same place. The second incident didn’t cause any further damage, but he hit up the dude for the price of the repair for which he already had insurance money. He saw the situation as a windfall. I told him he was stealing from that second guy after he admitted that he didn’t cause any more damage than what was already covered by insurance money for the original damage. I told him that the honorable and honest thing to do was to call the second guy and tell him a check would not be necessary and have a nice day. It took him a while to realize he was in the wrong, but I don’t know if he ever took my advice.

    The type of poor people you mention are doing the same thing, and of course, there’s nothing given them that is actually free. Someone is paying for it and if they are not putting forth the effort to earn, they are mooching. Unfortunately, for some reason too many don’t get the connection. Like my friend, they don’t want to see what they’re doing as a wrong being committed, because to do so means the easy money goes away.

    What’s more, too many people want to believe that the gov’t owns things and that to cheat the gov’t out of money hurts no one else. Yet, even if that were true, cheating a malevolent government is still stealing, especially if done for personal profit.

  2. There’s no shortage of anecdotes for such things – it’s a major problem here in Canada, too. My parents had a tenant that turned out to be a 3rd generation welfare recipient. She was a single parent with several children from different fathers. As long as she had a child under school age, she was not required to look for a job.

    My brother’s ex-girlfriend – a very young grandmother caring for a grandchild her unmarried daughter didn’t want to bother with – was actually evicted from her apartment because she was NOT on welfare. The building was converted to low income government housing, and she was the only person living there that wasn’t on welfare, so she got booted. She would come home from her job and get laughed at by her neighbours, with their large screen tv’s and backyard above ground pools, booze, cigarettes and illegal drugs, for being so stupid for working instead of being on welfare.

    The system was designed to help people get back on their feet. There was a brief time, when my husband had been on extended medical leave and ran out of insurance, that we were on the system (after 10 years at home with the kids, no job I could qualify for was enough to pay the bills). Not only did we find it humiliating, but the system actually punished you for working. My husband basically lied to his doctor to get off medical leave so he could get a job again.

    Our system covers things like prescription medications, dental visits and eyeglasses, but we have no programs for things like free phones.

  3. I saw the same kind of thing back when I was doing section 8 inspections. It’s frustrating, but I think a lot of it is that many who are poor have a different set of priorities that are pretty foreign to a lot of folks. It does get frustrating though. I literally walked through the day room at a homeless shelter waving cash to find people who wanted to work and got zero takers. We’re talking reasonably young, reasonably able bodied men who wouldn’t look up from their dominoes games. Mostly it’s just sad.

    Where I really get bogged down is when I compare some of the folks I know in Haiti to these people. What too many on the left don’t quite seem to get, is that a standard of living that is considered poverty in the US is an aspiration to millions of people around the world.

  4. Well written and I largely agree. I too have family (cousins) who are professional welfare scammers.

    That said, I would add two caveats (which perhaps you’d agree with too):

    (1) Government Policy creates People
    I think the government creates these animals. They are not by nature horrible people, but given the training by government policies, we create them. With correction in policy, over 20 years, they and their descendants would probably become good citizens.

    (2) Limitations of History & Education
    For many of the “abled-bodied poor” they have more than just an “attitude” limitation. Since they have no significant work history, jobs they are capable of may be unavailable to them. Likewise, because they have horrible education background, some jobs they may be nonetheless ideal for are closed to them. That is, Government enforced Union regulations destroy opportunity too. But this only applies to some of the folks you mention. For indeed with many, even waving money at them, they will refuse to work.

    • Sabio

      I think you’re right. People have been trained on how to scam the system, often times by the system. I have heard from people that government workers have coached people on the “right” answers to questions so that they will qualify for things they shouldn’t.

  5. Marshall Art says:

    I agree with Sabio’s points as well. It speaks to the unintended consequences of so many policies implemented on behalf of “the least of these”. I choose to believe many are well intended even if the consequences of the policies have been foretold by opponents of them. We see the most prime example of this now in Europe, as the attempts to correct the problems of their policies are met with resistance. The people have become too used to receiving what the gov’t provided, which is that which they should have been providing for themselves. They are now “entitled”.

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