No, Beneficiaries of Bernie’s Proposals Aren’t ‘Lazy’ Moochers
It’s official: Bernie Sanders is impossible to ignore. Once universally disregarded as a pragmatic and serious candidate by most media channels and all Republicans, he has swiftly leveraged a momentum of intellectual endorsements, youth energy, and record-breaking fundraising that recently led to a victory in the New Hampshire primary by a significant margin. The prior skepticism of his social proposals has been challenged by economists like Robert Reich and Gerald Friedman. On top of this, Sanders supporters are crusading social media in the thousands to defend the integrity, charisma, and heart of their chosen candidate.
As much as I like Bernie Sanders, I do have my reservations on his relationship with Washington (Clinton leads Sanders heavily in Democratic superdelegates) as well as the feasibility of his single-payer system. I do think that his stubborn nature, far less compromising than Barack Obama, may be a thorn on his side if he lands in the White House. I personally feel these are fair critiques for even the most staunch Sanders supporters and ones I hope he plans to address in his campaign.
Most critiques of Sanders I see, however, look similar to this:
It’s always interesting to see the tacit assumptions behind these types of statements:
- People who like Bernie Sanders are unemployed and lazy
- People who like Bernie Sanders are young and naive
- People only like Bernie Sanders because he gives away free stuff
- Bernie Sanders wants to remove the benefits of capitalism
As a young person who likes some of Sanders policies, I might seem like an anomaly according to the frame of reference used by his critics. I didn’t go through college for free, I am happily employed, and given my most recent tax situation, I would hardly qualify for any of the “free” things Sanders proposes. I like Sanders for his vision of a new America free of corporate corruption, injustice and rising poverty and that is where my admiration comes from.
So maybe you’re not talking about me. Maybe you’re talking about the thousands of youth that are drowning in student loans or the millions living on welfare in this country. Maybe they are the “lazy” and “entitled” people that don’t deserve your dollar.
Back in the Fall of 2012, I was a volunteer for four months at a non-profit called LIFT, my first exposure to social services. I worked with hundreds of individuals in one-on-one session: Many were unemployed, looking to apply for government benefits, and looking for simple physiological needs such as food and shelter. Some were falling under the duress of their loans, some had become victim to foreclosure, and some were simply looking to create a future that don’t involve living every paycheck to paycheck.
The last word I would have used to describe any of these people: lazy.
Applying for unemployment benefits in this country is a complicated process but essentially precipitated on the fact that your unemployment is due to a circumstance out of your control. If you decide to quit your job tomorrow, sit on your couch and watch Netflix, you cannot simply collect federal or state unemployment benefits. If you decide tomorrow to sleep instead of looking for work, you cannot simply get a forbearance on your loans.
If you suddenly get struck with an illness or surgery that leaves you incapacitated for three months, you may be qualified for unemployment benefits.
Furthermore, many of the food stamp recipients in this country are children. More than 82% of all food stamp money goes to households that include children, elderly people, or people with disabilities. The same people considered “lazy” or “entitled” by some conservative pundits are the ones that cannot work due to the structure of a system that cannot hire them.
In addition, there is an expiration on loan deferments and unemployment benefits - if you stay on unemployment benefits for more than 26 weeks, you may be cut off the government safety net. So no, people on unemployment benefits aren’t sitting back and content. They are scared out of their mind.
Many of the people I worked with at LIFT did not have a college education and had trouble even getting a minimum-wage job. They could not afford to be lazy. They could not afford to sit on their coach for a weekend and take a break from the job search. For the ones who could get a job, one was not enough. Many worked two or three jobs. One of the most optimistic individuals I met got a job handing out newspapers at a Washington DC metro in the freezing cold - I admired the hell out of his grit. Most people on welfare? They are hardworking, taxpaying citizens, just like the rest of us.
So where does Bernie Sanders come in? For all the “free stuff” that Sanders critics claims he wants to give, there are only two main pulpits of his social democracy: Free public education and universal healthcare. Guess what happens when people have access to healthcare? They can work. Guess what happens when people have access to validating degrees and academic cognizance? They can work. He wants to create opportunity so that people are in a position where they do not sit around and get free stuff.
There is nothing exciting about being on any sort of government welfare. For all the people I worked with at LIFT, I saw paranoia and apprehension. I saw people in circumstances they didn’t want with barriers they could not predict. I saw people busting their butt, coming into the office almost three days a week, and taking meticulous notes making sure they knew every option available to them.
I did not see lazy people. I did not see moochers.
I saw people who were simply able to breathe for another week because of government benefits.
Until you’re in this position, I understand that it’s impossible to empathize. Until you get destroyed by a debilitating sickness that suddenly makes it impossible for you to work, I understand that it’s simply easy to write off beneficiaries as lazy or deceitful. Until you have rational arguments to destroy Bernie Sanders and the need for social welfare, I understand it’s easier to just paint his beneficiaries as stupid and gullible.
Americans want to make a living and create their own safety nets - I believe that both Bernie and Hillary understand this vision and I look forward to seeing them articulate it better to nonsensical welfare critics.