Pew Research Center survey finds declining support for government safety nets
Jasmine McIntyre is thankful for the social safety net supporting her and her unborn child at the Florence Crittenton home.
Where do you fall in the survey?
Majorities of Republicans now disagree that the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep (63 percent disagree, 36 percent agree) and take care of people who can’t take care of themselves (54 percent disagree, 40 percent agree).
Among Democrats, 75 percent agree the government should take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. 78 percent say basic food and shelter should be government guarantees.
Independents are nearly evenly divided between the views of Democrats and Republicans.
78 percent of blacks and Hispanics support government guarantees of food and shelter compared with 52 percent of whites.
Women remain more supportive of government social safety nets than men. 64 percent of women and 54 percent of men support the government guaranteeing all citizens food and shelter.
People with lower incomes are far more supportive of the social safety net than those with higher incomes.
Only 41 percent of Americans now say the government is run for the benefit of all people, reaching previous lows from the early 1990s.
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Without the residential program for at-risk teen moms, she would have scant money, little education and a bleak future.
Instead, she is pursuing a job and is ready to enroll in college courses.
Cappi Wilborn wishes there was a stronger housing safety net for her aging, widowed mother Dorothy Dozier. Without one, Wilborn and her husband, themselves raising two young boys, are covering the $600-a-month gap between her mom’s Social Security check and her costs at Sandpiper Village.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” Wilborn said. “I just hope that Medicare or Medicaid will kick in one day.”
The question of how much — and for how long — tax dollars should support social safety nets has garnered much recent debate, from campaign podiums to the homes of regular folks making do with less.
An in-depth Pew Research Center survey in June suggested that people like Wilborn shouldn’t get her hopes up.
The annual survey showed dwindling public support for government social safety nets, down to the lowest point in nearly 20 years, even as more Americans need them.
The percentage of Americans who believe the government has a responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves dropped by 10 points in five years, the survey found. Their ranks slipped from 69 percent in 2007 to 59 percent today.
Other survey highlights include:
An 11-point drop in those who agree that the government should help more needy people, even if it means going deeper in debt, down from 54 percent in 2007 to 43 percent today.
A 10-point drop in those who agree the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep, down from 69 percent to 59 percent.
Overall, men are less likely to support government safety nets than women.
“If more people take the view that government is the enemy and taxes are bad and we’re all in it for ourselves, this is a long-term shift,” said the Rev. Bert Keller, a retired Charleston pastor and MUSC bioethics professor.
“If the conservative trend continues, when safety net features are cut, conservatives will realize that it’s not just the poor who suffer but they themselves are made less secure,” he said.
For others, it comes down to a balance between what today’s government can afford and what its people require.
The Rev. Ed Grant contends that Christians have a biblical calling to help those in need.
“But I believe the church does a far better job than the government in caring for the poor,” said Grant, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in West Ashley which has a variety of outreach ministries.
For one, very limited government budgets require thriftiness. Plus, churches can bring people into a church or a deeper faith that can help them find long-term help and meaning — a la the notion of “teach a man to fish,” Grant said.
“Too often, government programs perpetuate dependency by simply giving a handout,” Grant said. “Christians give a loving hand up.”
Seeking help in a crisis
Living at Florence Crittenton in a sprawling, old house with a dozen other hormonal, pregnant teens is not how McIntyre imagined her life when her parents moved to South Carolina three years ago.
She was a student at West Ashley High School when she was sexually assaulted and dropped out of school. However, she went on to earn her GED, and the man she alleges attacked her was arrested.
Then she learned she was pregnant (though not from the assault).
She decided to have her baby girl. McIntyre sent the baby to live with her own mother, who had since moved to Ohio, and made plans to move there herself. She was working two jobs when she learned she was pregnant again.
With little money and no higher education, McIntyre and her mother worried. What was her future? And what could she offer two small children?
Again, McIntyre decided to have the baby. But this time, now 19, she moved into Florence Crittenton, a home for at-risk, unwed young women.
“My mom is not here, so I wouldn’t have had much information or many resources,” McIntyre said. “But if I can get started with college, I’ll be a lot better off.”
On Thursday, McIntyre went to orientation for a temporary job. Then she returned to Florence Crittenton to attend parenting classes. She also is ready to enroll at Trident Technical College.
“Florence Crittenton is helping me get into the mindset of being independent,” McIntyre said.
Florence Crittenton Programs of South Carolina nurture young women in an old brick house off Rutledge Avenue where they can prepare for motherhood in a safe environment. They are assured housing, education, medical care, counseling and life skills education.
They also learn to live together — and together prepare for their coming due dates.
Its clients are more likely to stay in school, learn life skills and give birth to healthy babies. For every $1 the program spends, it saves $4 in tax dollars, Executive Director Lisa Belton said.
Nearly 40 percent of the cost for its services comes from government sources. The rest comes from grants and donations.
“Without government funding we would close,” Belton said.
Doing our best
Wilborn wonders how her mother will pay for housing without government programs to help her — and the millions of other Baby Boomers coming down the aging pike.
After seven years of caring for her husband as he died from aggressive prostate cancer, Dozier spent all her money paying hefty medical, prescription and other bills. Her physical and mental health deteriorated.
“She was very lonely without my dad,” Wilborn said. “Grief and loneliness and depression drove her health problems.”
Then Dozier, who is 74, moved into an independent-living apartment at Sandpiper Village. The petite, social Southern lady has friends, dominates at bingo and gets her meals prepared for her. More help is available on site if she needs it.
Trouble is, Dozier’s Social Security check doesn’t cover the bill.
So Wilborn and her husband — themselves raising two boys, 9 and 11, both working and trying to save for their retirement — pick up the rest.
“My mom feels awful,” Wilborn said. “She doesn’t want to be a burden. But at Sandpiper, she is thriving.”
Wilborn is grateful that they can help her mother pay at this point in their lives. The Sullivan’s Island resident works in fundraising; her husband Peter is an attorney.
But still she worries.
What will happen when her mom, who has diabetes and other health issues, needs full-blown assisted living at $5,000 a month? Dozier doesn’t have long-term-care insurance, and Medicaid and Medicare don’t cover assisted living.
Wilborn hopes that future government administrations will change that. If not, she foresees more families being forced to take on large debts. Meanwhile, she and her husband are trying to save for their own retirements and for their sons’ college educations.
“We’re trying to do our best by our kids and our own retirements,” Wilborn said. “But she’s my mom. I feel like we don’t have a choice of whether we can afford it.”
Reach Jennifer Berry Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her at www.facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.