Being poor. It means stretching a dollar to be sure that your children can eat every day. It means deciding whether you can skip a car payment or a mortgage payment this month, because one more missed electricity bill will get the power turned off. It means ignoring the pain in your chest because even if you have insurance you can’t cover the deductible for the doctor’s visit, or skipping your medication because the copay is just a little too much. It’s trying to decide between buying a shirt without a hole for a job interview or having the gas you need just to get to it.
And, according to most Republicans, that’s all “having it easy.”
A new study conducted by Pew Research says that over 75 percent of those who identify as conservative believe that the poor have it “easy.” “More than three quarters of conservative Americans – those in the steadfast conservative, business conservative, and young outsider typology groups — agree that ‘poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything,’” reports Wonk Blog. “Only seven percent of steadfast conservatives say that the poor ‘have hard lives.’”
There’s a number of issues with that misconception, ranging from the idea that government benefits are in any way adequate or that they are easy to get. For the last few years we’ve seen a number of states cut benefits to the poor, providing less as well as making them more difficult to apply for. TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and WIC programs are always first to disappear in a budget crisis, such as the 2013 government shut down, and TANF has recently been cut in some states to give money to crisis pregnancy centers instead. A refusal in a number of red states to expand Medicaid has left tens of thousands in a gap without health insurance. States that are attempting to force welfare recipients to undergo mandatory drug tests prior to getting benefits are demanding the poor pay for their own drug tests out of pocket, and even when people do receive assistance, they are forced to get rid of every asset they have first, thereby dooming themselves to a cycle of poverty they are unlikely to ever end.
Still, for many conservatives, every cent is a handout that came straight out of their pocket, hurting them and helping the “lazy” poor. As the comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug so eloquently put it, every person getting assistance is a “Lucky Ducky,” taking advantage of the hard work of real Americans keeping the economy going.
Inherently, in the conservative mindset, poor and lazy are inter-changeable, and one simply would not be poor if he or she would work harder. It’s a belief system that ignores the basic realities that poverty imposes one generation after the next, as well as the given disadvantages that cycle on top of each other such as violence, lack of food and medical care, lack of permanence in housing, lack of access to good schools and quality education, and, because of all of these things, lack of access to good jobs with living wages.
The poor do not have it easy, by any means. In reality, it is a lie that conservatives tell themselves to justify their own hoarding of wealth, dismantling of the social safety net, and cruelty to those struggling to make ends meet. By convincing themselves that the poor have it “easy” and that benefits are ample and simple to obtain, they can ignore those who are truly suffering by convincing themselves that it is moral or spiritual weakness, and not their own policies, that have caused others to need help.
The question isn’t how 75 percent of conservatives can be delusional enough to believe the poor have it easy. The real question is how they will sleep at night once they finally realize they are wrong.