Let’s Get Real

The Los Angeles Times has an article today with the scare headline “$69 million in California welfare money drawn out of state.” This is the most recent of several of these types of articles, not necessarily in the Times, the purpose of which seems to be publicizing the claim that welfare recipiensts are wasting the State’s money. The previous one I saw was about welfare spending at casinos.

There are so many things wrong with this type of article that I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to start. Being an economist, I think I’ll start with the math. In 2008, California’s total state and local welfare spending was $42.3 billion. This year’s is surely higher.  One estimate is $49.4 billion.

That $69 million, at less than two-tenths of one percent of 2008’s welfare spending (0.16 Percent), doesn’t look so big any more. That’s not all though. According to the article, that $69 million was over “recent years.” I don’t know how many years “recent years” includes, but divide that 0.16 percent by at least two, and we’re getting to some pretty small numbers.

Some might argue that any welfare money spent on entertainment is wasted, but that would be wrong. It is unreasonable to expect anyone in this society to go without some entertainment. Just as people can’t live on pinto beans and hamburger helper (I know, Joyce and I tried it when we were first married), people can’t live on just work and unfilled leisure time. Welfare recipients also need entertainment.

Imagine a life of just going to work and then sitting or sleeping the rest of your day. Imagine telling your kids, time after time, that they can’t have, or do, any of the things they see their friends have or do. We all tell our kids they can’t have something, but welfare recipients have to tell them this all the time. Who are we to object if they take the kids on an out-of-state trip? We don’t know what sacrifices they made to fund the trip.

We need to give these people a break. If people are poor enough that society feels the need to support them, we shouldn’t begrudge them a little entertainment.

The final objection would be on what entertainment welfare recipients should enjoy. Why would we care? People are entertained by different things. I think that spending any money on a televisions set, a movie, or cable television is a complete waste of money, and I would not go to a casino to gamble. I’m in a minority though. There is no reason that I should impose my preference on everyone else. There is no reason we, or you, should impose preferences on welfare recipients.

The Los Angeles Times is making a big deal out of nothing.

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