In the United States, there seems to be a frequent desire by many politicians and citizens to police those that are in a state of poverty. The different forms of ridicule include welfare reform, mass faux fraudulent hysteria, bullying food stamp recipients about what kinds of foods and drinks they can buy, and what the popular topic is now – drug testing recipients of welfare assistance. There always seems to be some kind of group effort to push around and harass the poor, and now the attempt is to further stigmatize those on assistance by accusing them of being drug addicts.
Back in 1976, Ronald Reagan was running for president here in the United States. He told a story about a woman who was on every form of assistance in the country, had many names, many social security numbers, and was getting benefits from deceased husbands. He told this story as he was also being very critical to the government assistance programs that were offered at that time. The woman he was referring to is now known to most as Linda Taylor, one of the many names she had used (Demby “The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen'”). She was not only found guilty of fraud, but also of kidnapping and potential murder, among other charges. It was the Chicago Tribune, however, that had actually referred to her as “The Welfare Queen”. With all of the crimes that she was convicted of and implicated in, The Chicago Tribune and Reagan had decided that the welfare fraud was the most powerful thing to bring to the public (Kohler-Hausmann 329-354.). Even though this woman was very unique in all of the fraud and crimes she had committed, she turned out to be the greatest symbol of what is very wrong, or what many want the public to think is wrong, with people who obtain benefits from public assistance. This symbolism – that is still used today – paved the way for other tactics in order to gain the public’s support to defund and/or dismantle social programs.
The issues surrounding drug and alcohol abuse and the regular drug testing of people on some form of social services are very complicated. Many say that a mandatory cyclical drug testing of recipients would not only come up with little results, but would also require spending a significant amount of money that these social services are in dire need of. Florida was one of the first states to attempt these regular tests. Lizette Alvarez reported that in the four months that Florida had tried regularly testing their welfare recipients, less than 3% of these tests came up positive, and most were tested positive for marijuana. Florida apparently has reimbursement laws, so they had to pay back all of the people who tested clean. They ended up spending $45,780 more than they would have if they were not doing the regular testing (Alvarez ). The promise was that they would end up saving money, and that theory was not backed up by any factual evidence. Other states have come to the same conclusions, such as Arizona, who saved a mere $560 when they found only 1 of 87,000 people had tested positive for drug use (Taracena “Is Arizona Wasting Taxpayer Money When Drug Testing Welfare Recipients?”).
As was stated previously, this is a layered and complex issue, and must be examined through most of those layers in order to make an appropriate conclusion and overall decision. Officially, segregation was overturned with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Staff “Civil Rights Act.”). Unofficially, that law that was put into place left no room for discussion on segregation in terms of housing. Martha R. Mahoney states that from the 1930s well into the 1950s, racial segregation was encouraged by the likes of the Home Owners Loan Corporation and Federal Housing Authority, among many other organizations. White people were denied loans if they planned on moving to areas that were predominantly black neighborhoods. The basis of housing segregation has not stopped since the Civil Rights Act, yet nobody even denies that there are still certain areas that are meant to be for those who are either poor or a person of color, or both. Official claims for why the change in housing did not occur was that the middle class were mobilizing upwards in income and wanted better opportunities for themselves and/or their children (1659–1684). While there are no verbal urges for white people to primarily live in white neighborhoods, the value of property still goes down when more people of color live there. A person’s environment is an enormous factor when seemingly attempting to balance the scales and offering better opportunities for people who are suffering from poverty.
Another enormous factor that must be taken into consideration when trying to battle poverty is proper education. Cities and states push more funds into the predominantly white schools and neighborhoods, leaving other schools and neighborhoods with a lower expectation of educational growth, a less hopeful and satisfying view out of their window, and much fewer opportunities. In most cities, public schooling is chosen for the students most often based on their neighborhood, or whether they live within a certain distance and the numbers of the nearest school needs to be filled. The kids that used to be called to the Principal’s office are now largely being suspended, expelled, and/or criminalized for offenses that are quite minor. These actions against children – who are primarily children of color – quite often leads to dropping out or being pushed out and is most often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline (Fowler 14–19). The school-to-prison pipeline is where mostly, but not exclusively, black children are demonized and criminalized for offenses that are quite common with most school-aged children, thus creating a cycle of distrust and an inability to focus on the learning experience. Darling-Hammond quotes W.E.B. Dubois in his reference to “the most bitter sacrifice…were those that were made for the freedom to learn.” And the struggles then were that of segregation and extreme racism that were not as they are today, not covert. During the times of slavery, it was deemed illegal to teach an enslaved black person how to read (13–24). Today, the stereotype of the angry black man and angry black woman are used as a weapon to demonize non-violent black children in schools, thus preventing them from learning. For very minor offenses, they are now more often to be punished in a criminal sense that no white person would typically be. Those children that are pushed away from their schools in one way or another are likely to turn to crime (Ou, Merskey, Reynolds, and Kohler 85-128). As we examine how quickly and easily a person, or a group of people, can be pigeon-holed into a position where they no longer have the means to work, due to the detriments that surround the school-to-prison pipeline. These issues lead to a – currently – inevitable domino effect that then lead to severe poverty and possibly criminal activity in order to provide due to the lack of educational rights that were stripped away.
The various levels of demonization of primarily black people of color is most apparent when looking at the numbers. Many have pointedly stated that when looking at the compared percentage of population between white people and black people, one would expect more white people would be in prison than black people (Facts “Race and Prison”). However, in 2005, the percentage of population of Black Americans was at less than 13%, yet they made up not only half of the prison inmates, but also 42% of the Death Row inmates (Tonry and Melewski 1-44). Many reports have shown that both white and black people use drugs at the same rate, but black people are more likely to be caught and/or arrested due to the heavy “stop and frisk” tactic that is frequently used to meet quotas and target people of color. If white people do get sentenced, they are more likely to get less sentenced time in prison than if the person was black. The increased likelihood of a person of color ending up in jail or prison for at least some period of time lessens their chances of finding work, taking care of their family, voting, and obtaining social services, depending on the charges that were made.
In order to understand why regular drug testing is extremely wasteful, it is important to look at the initial symbol that was given decades ago, of the “Welfare Queen”. This was the image that was painted for the people who were never going to utilize those services, so they could never see how wildly inaccurate and harmful such a label could be. Unfortunately, many do not know that it is white people who are the most likely to obtain social services such as food stamps. When someone paints such a picture that has other people thinking that it is people who they could never identify with that are using resources from their “hard earned taxes”, they have a tendency to dehumanize and deconstruct the people who are in the most need. So, although white people are mostly the ones using the resources, the black people who may obtain government assistance are demonized far more often. The funding that goes into assisting those that suffer from poverty or inequality-based hardships are very limited, and the government officials rarely ever increase that funding. So, when they decide to allocate that much needed money towards labeling the recipients as drug addicts by requiring that they get regularly tested, those officials are revoking much needed meals and household supplies. Most states require that their recipients work and/or go to school, also. If they are working, and the majority of these people are, they are required by most employers to do random drug tests. The states do not have the funding to prove something that has already been proven. Without the extra funding provided by the federal government, these drug tests only feed the racist agenda that has been built and altered for years.
Alvarez, Lizette. “No Savings are found from Welfare Drug Tests.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 1. Apr 18 2012. ProQuest.Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Securing the Right to Learn: Policy and Practice for Powerful Teaching and Learning”. Educational Researcher 35.7 (2006): 13–24. Web.
Demby, Gene. “The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen'”. NPR. National Public Radio, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
Facts, Drug War. “Race and Prison.” Drugwarfacts.org. Common Sense for Drug Policy, 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.
Fowler, Deborah. “School Discipline Feeds the “Pipeline to Prison””. The Phi Delta Kappan 93.2 (2011): 14–19. Web.
Kohler-Hausmann, Julilly. “”The Crime of Survival”: Fraud Prosecutions, Community Surveillance, and the Original “Welfare Queen””. Journal of Social History 41.2 (2007): 329–354. Web.
Mahoney, Martha R. “Segregation, Whiteness, and Transformation”. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 143.5 (1995): 1659–1684. Web.
Tonry, Michael and Melewski, Matthew “Crime and Justice”, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2008), 1-44.
Staff, History.com. “Civil Rights Act” History.com. A+E Networks, 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Suh‐Ruu Ou, Joshua P. Mersky, Arthur J. Reynolds, and Kristy M. Kohler Social Service Review, Vol. 81, No. 1 (March 2007), p. 85-128.
Taracena, María Inés. “Is Arizona Wasting Taxpayer Money When Drug Testing Welfare Recipients?” Tucson Weekly Foundation, 23 July 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.