Does the White Working Class Hate Welfare for the Poor?

Kevin Drum has a piece about why white working class people don't vote for Democrats. He starts by downplaying the idea that social conservatism draws them towards Republicans. Then he blames it on welfare for the poor:

So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

There are a number of problems with this take.
 
First, it's not clear that white working class people are particularly mad at welfare or government assistance for the poor.
 
I can't find data directly on point, but this polling data from GOP supporters (who are almost entirely white) broken down by income is telling.
 
 
I don't know where working class begins and ends here. But in the $30k-$75k range, you have 57% of GOP voters (non-voters are generally more progressive still) who think the government's support for poor people is the right amount or not enough. And this is not even counting the white working class who votes for Democrats, which is still a large chunk of white working class people, even if it's a minority.
 
Second, Drum's argument presumes there is some sizeable class of non-working poor people living on welfare.
 
But there really isn't. According to my calculations of the latest ASEC, just 3.1% of the U.S. population are able-bodied, non-working poor adults. Just 1.3% of the U.S. population are able-bodied, non-working white adults, this being the population that the white working class would rub shoulders with. And this 1.3% overstates things because some of them are stay-at-home parents whose spouse works, but only makes poverty wages. Others didn't work this year (e.g. because of elevated unemployment or some other bad event), but have worked in the past and will work in the future.
 
Are the white working class really steamed at this tiny group of people in their midst? It's unlikely, and their opinions on poor relief (see graph above) don't indicate it.
 
Third, the white working class and the poor are not separate entities.
 
For one, many poor whites do work and receive benefits, the EITC if nothing else. Further, poor whites one year might be non-poor white working class another. The ranks of the poor are fluid, and working class people are especially prone to fall in and out of it. Also, white working class people likely have people in their extended family who are poor and needing or receiving benefits (perhaps explaining the graph above). My own extended white working class family has, at present, relatives (family of five with three children) who haven't been able to find work for months to maybe a year, and are facing eviction from their trailer rental unit.
 
As Drum notes, familiarity with poor people is personal for members of the white working class. But their closeness to it may not cut in the loathe-the-poor direction that Drum supposes.
 
Nonetheless, I think Drum is partially on to something when he points out that its hard to find the Democrats appealing.
 

So sure: full-throated economic populism? That might work, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. But here's one thing it better mean: policies that are aimed at the working and middle classes and that actually appeal to them. That is, policies that are simple, concrete, and offer benefits which are clear and compelling.

The Democrats might genuinely hope that, by some operation of the market or education, middle class families will get a boost. But they aren't proposing bold policies to directly do that.

This is a shame because those policies exist. For instance, I have been pushing for some time now a $300 per child per month child allowance benefit to replace the Child Tax Credit and the Dependent Exemption.

Child allowance programs are extremely popular throughout the developed world and Canada's Conservative Party has recently hinted that they intend to expand Canada's version of it soon. Such a program would carry a net fiscal cost of around 1% of GDP, which is easily doable given our tiny tax level. It would also provide quite a massive boost, $7,200 per year for a middle class family with two kids (somewhat less than that in net given the elimination of the Child Tax Credit and Dependent Exemption, but still a significant net gain). It's simple, concrete, and offers benefits which are clear and compelling.

 

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