EDITED September 16, 2015: Before anybody else points this out to me, I’d like to say that I know these probably aren’t genuine photos of poor people’s and middle-class people’s refrigerators. I know, okay? I’m simply talking about the message of the meme, not the authenticity of the photographs. Please do not comment to tell me these pictures aren’t real. I know. I know. I know. Now back to your regularly scheduled griping, already in progress.
No, it isn’t opposite day.
There’s a kernel of truth to this meme, but probably not in the way the meme’s author intended. I know people who have received food stamps while working in low-paying jobs, and they tell me that yes, food stamps enable one to buy a lot of food they would otherwise be unable to afford. Contrariwise, in the months during which one’s income is barely above the cut-off to receive government assistance, keeping enough food in the refrigerator to ensure basic survival is a real challenge.
Now one might reasonably argue that a few dollars’ difference each month is not a fair way to determine who gets assistance and who doesn’t, and that’s a debate worth having; however, I don’t think the author was thinking of people living just above the poverty line when he made reference to the “middle class” in America.
Before we proceed, we should review the guidelines by which the government determines who is eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and who isn’t. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, a family of three is eligible for SNAP benefits (which used to be food stamps) if the following conditions are met:
- The family has less than $2000 in countable resources (including bank accounts but not including the potential value of homes, cars, etc).
- The family has a net monthly income of less than $1628 (after certain deductions are applied).
- If there are able-bodied work-capable adults in the household who are currently unemployed, they must register for work and accept suitable employment when the opportunity arises.
It’s hardly a free ride, in other words. Despite some peoples’ misplaced concerns that government assistance programs encourage sloth, you really have to be in dire straits before you qualify, and the conditions of the assistance are meant to encourage you to improve your situation as quickly as possible.
This meme insinuates that people who don’t work at all are better off than those who work for a middle class salary. Is that really true, or perhaps more importantly, do people really believe that? I conducted some informal research (I Googled it) looking for people that had consciously decided to give up gainful employment to suckle the government teat, and who were happier for the trade.
I found lots of people saying they should quit working and live on welfare, but no accounts of people actually having done so. Aha, you might object, people who actually work for a living are too proud to ask for handouts, no matter how many free benefits they could receive by doing so. But you know what? I don’t buy that. Pride always has its price, and I’ll bet that for a significant portion of the working population, the promise of free food will pay that price. If people really think that living on government assistance is better than earning a middle class salary, then where are the people making the jump?
I think most people objectively know that living in or near poverty is awful. Yes, government assistance can help, but it’s not a condition into which most people would willingly put themselves. People who receive government assistance, particularly in the purchasing of food, do so because they have to, and they stretch their government benefits to the limit by buying low-cost food items. Yes, the alleged “no job” refrigerator is full, but full of what? Expensive wines? No. Gourmet cheeses? Hardly. It’s full of cheap, boxed foods, a ready supply of calories but not much else.
Regarding the “middle class” refrigerator being empty…so what? Perhaps this person lives alone and rarely buys groceries. Perhaps this family spends most of its income eating in restaurants. Maybe the owner of this refrigerator buys groceries for a whole month, and it’s near the end of the month. Who knows? We don’t know the circumstances that led to this refrigerator being empty. The implication that middle class families suffer while SNAP recipients live like kings is unfounded.