What is the best thing about President Barack Obama? His family. Though we often talk about the American dream and what it means, regardless of material comforts, the American dream is embedded in a healthy community and family. Lately there has been a lot of high talk and political fisticuffs about what the limits of social welfare in this country are, especially when it means balancing higher taxes with public goods. Here are a few good reasons why a greater amount of social welfare will make our lives better and strengthen communities and families.
1. Social welfare does not just include entitlements. Food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and social security are just one side of the coin. The other side is community jobs and improvement projects. Providing for reconstruction projects and cleaning projects sponsored by federal programs like Americorps is an effective way to motivate youth, clean up the environment and do so without private enterprises corrupting tax dollars. Students are paid with education credits and living expenses while they receive job training, while young married adults can get free child care and additional funds to raise their kids while they work.
2. Education improves everyone’s lives. The more education you have the less social welfare you will need in the long run, so education is always a wise investment. When Obama passed the student loan overhaul bill at the end of March, conservatives claimed that it was putting dependency on education into the government’s hands. They fail to recall that this has always been the case. Many of the nation’s greatest institutions are land grant colleges, essentially colleges that were built with government money to increase the number of individuals trained in agricultural and technical fields. The student loan overhaul bill was necessary because banks were charging immense fees to provide loans to students, even though the money originated from the federal programs. So the government is now going to do the smart thing and simply administer the loans themselves. If a student works in a service field like nursing or the military, loans are forgiven in 10 years, and for all other students, if you continue to make minimum payments, loans are forgiven in 20 years.
3. Social welfare improves quality of life. Everyone wants to be taken care of in some way or another, but not everyone has that. Lower income families struggle to provide the bare necessities for their children, and because of this they tend to educate and provide only enough for their children to become trapped in the same cycle of destitution. If there are free community centers, children and parents can provide a safe environment away from negative influences, they can receive free parenting training, use exercise facilities and develop career skills. Lately there has been a move away from community growth because of migration to cities, changes in the American economy to a credit and banking system and financial collapse of community industries. When the government invests in social welfare, it improves community structures for generations to come. For instance, Michelle Obama is working on a program called Let’s Move, which is designed to eliminate childhood obesity within one generation. The First Lady has lobbied the food industry to improve the health of their products, and is re-energizing the national lunch program and President Physical fitness award to encourage more physical exercise in schools and more nutritious lunches.
Capitalism does not help everyone. It actually creates poverty because it forces the successful to manipulate the poor and underprivileged in order to maintain their profits. When we are pitted against one another just to maintain a basic standard of living, we aren’t actually free. We are slaves to the dollar. If we create community projects we can pool resources and work less, allowing for more real freedom to do what we enjoy rather than what we have too. We can be educated in more than just a job; we can be educated in living well. This isn’t socialism, its just common sense.
Corporations do not give back to the community in any meaningful way, and the little social work that is done is usually heavily tied to advertising. According to the annual report by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, large companies in the Fortune categories give about one 10th of a percent of total revenue, less than 2 percent of their gross profit. Compare that to a small company or a community church and you can see the difference between philanthropy and public relations.
The government isn’t taking your freedom by creating social programs and taxing large incomes, it is realizing the need to provide a good future for its citizens by establishing a minimum standard of living. By putting people before profit, we get smarter policy, less corruption, better education, better health and a sense of belonging to a greater community. I want to say, “I’m proud to be an American” not because I value money and prestige, but because I live in a country that cares about others, and works to develop their skills to be all that they can be. That starts with communities and families, and if we work together we can raise everyone’s tides.