What People Are Saying
In the political scene, the topic of welfare tends to fall into a contentious divide between two sides: One says that welfare is largely bad for society and focuses on people who would exploit the system for personal gain. The other says that welfare is largely good for society and focuses on people who could barely make ends meet and survived into success because of financial support. Nicholas Cheong, for example, on American Thinker, writes that exploitation leads to reliance, which eventually leads to entitlement. And Larkin Warren pens, in an opinion piece on the New York Times, a story of how financial aid helped her find success.
Why I Disagree
Contrary to how people tend to present the "welfare exploitation" and "welfare helps" sides of the coin, these are not mutually exclusive arguments - that is, the world can have stories of people who received government aid in a time of need and succeeded, and silent stories of people who continuously receive government aid as a buffer because they don't want to work. What is problematic is that it's nearly impossible to tell how many people who receive aid are legitimately attempting to find work and contribute to society.
For example, you might be a person whose career just didn't work out as you had hoped and your skills and education make you either overqualified or underqualified for most jobs in a struggling economy. Or maybe family circumstances that were out of your control put you in a situation where you have an unfinished education with student loans to pay and no solid income to pay them. Whatever the situation may be, it's dishonest to think that most people who use some kind of government aid are not, in some capacity, trying to right themselves.
The reason it's dishonest, especially with how poorly the economy has been doing in the US, is because the assumption is that people who use government aid could be financially successful and not require aid right now if they had made better decisions throughout their lives. Although decisions matter - an alcoholic who quits a solid job to sit on a couch all day is making a terrible decision - assuming that most of the people who need aid have made terrible decisions is a sign of a deeper psychological problem; a desire to feel intellectually superior.
A study on Science Daily shows that children who are praised for their "hard work" (or, "process") do better at handling challenges and thinking that intelligence is something that can be improved, compared to children who are praised for who they are ("person praise"). What this means is that children who grow up thinking that intelligence is just a characteristic of their person may also be less secure in their actually possessing said intelligence. Thus the tendency to think that people who have made bad decisions also don't work hard and aren't smart.
How We Can Do Better
We think of welfare as financial aid and leave it at that, but money alone is just a tool. Some people make a solid, above average income and then they spend beyond what they can pay for anyway. Are those people just "stupid"? Or are they simply missing a different kind of aid that is far more valuable, and far less costly, than money: Emotional aid. Some people make lots of money but spend it all and others make almost no money and spend almost nothing. The illusion here is that some people can spend lots of money without thought.
And yet, a millionaire who spends without thought won't be a millionaire very long. Some may have a kind of financial freedom, but are they really "free" or just have more room to make bad decisions with their money? Jim Carrey - actor and comedian - once said, "I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it's not the answer." Some place a lot of value on the money that they earn and where it gets spent - it makes sense, after all, because watching your money closely is often what builds wealth in the first place.
Some of these same are the ones who would complain about those who exploit government aid programs. "The government is taking my money to give it to someone who doesn't even try to work," they might say. And underneath it all, we all want that safety net. For some, the safety net is their savings account and job security. For others, the only safety net they have available is the helping hand of other people. But the truth is, we build each other up by helping and in that community effort, we create an emotional safety net that transcends special pieces of paper.