Safety net or hammock?

Published 5:30 pm Monday, September 1, 2014

By Joseph Bass

How is it that we have large numbers of unemployed Americans, and yet thousands of people cross our borders every day and find jobs? Many of these people never had an opportunity for a public education.

Why do government and nonprofit organizations provide billions of dollars in public housing, health care and food for those who do not work, while people enter our nation illegally to work?

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The safety net has turned into a hammock.

The safety net provides aid so that every American can have a certain standard of living, whether they work or not. Through the 50-year-old War on Poverty, a leisure class of Americans has been created, consisting of people identified as “poor” who live their lives based on the wealth created by others.

When my great-grandparents moved into Indian Territory to get away from racial bigotry because they were part Indian, there was no safety net. There was no safety net when my grandparents grew up as children in Indian Territory. There was no safety net when both sets of my grandparents worked to raise my parents during the Depression. There was no safety net when my friends’ parents traveled Route 66 to California as children in conditions of extreme poverty to try to find work.

But all of these people, through their own labors, eventually thrived in the American economy.

Existence of the safety net is a vote of no confidence in the people welfare supports. The safety net says the current poor are not capable of doing what my great-grandparents and grandparents did.

None of my family members were rich folks. But each generation did better than the one before it in terms of education and income. My grandparents could hardly read or write. My parents had master’s degrees. I have a doctorate. My son is doing quite well. But none of us needed a safety net to help us.

I do not believe our current “poor” are inferior to my great-grandparents, grandparents and parents. I think we have provided them a hammock to lie in, and they have come to think of it as an entitlement.

But we should be able to see that each new generation is doing worse than the last.

As a solution, many advocate simply discontinuing welfare and letting people sink or swim. I believe that approach is too drastic. Too many generations have lain in the hammock too long to adjust to such a quick change.

We should develop a more gradual program that progressively discontinues welfare over a period of 10 to 15 years. And efforts should focus on letting recipients know that to thrive they might have to start doing the jobs the people illegally entering America are now doing.

My ancestors did work like that and I’m sure the “poor” are capable of doing the same.

Eventually they will come to understand they are not entitled to anything, except what they earn from their own labors.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at