Perspectives on American Culture: Stigma of Government Assistance | Guest Article by Dylan Yoki

Within American culture, there is a pervasive attitude that in order for anyone to have value in society, they must be employed in a corporate job. Anyone who deviates from this path of making money is looked down on by society as a whole. This negative perception of those who utilize unconventional means, such as “gig economy” workers, to make ends meet is never more obvious than the disdain towards those who require government assistance. These assistance programs can take many forms. One of the most common is food stamps along with government healthcare insurance such as Medicaid and Medicare. The assistance program whose recipients seem to receive the most scorn is from those who have Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). 

 

In my own personal experience, having had to apply for all of these programs, one of the more difficult aspects of even applying was the stress of all the paperwork that had to be filled out in order to receive the benefit. Filling out the paperwork required was very time consuming and even when the paperwork was sent to the appropriate office, there was often additional information needed that required more paperwork to be filled out and sent off- it never seemed to end. This arduous paperwork, on top of having the worries of bills to pay when I had basically no money to fall back on in such dire circumstances, seems cruel in retrospect. I was already struggling, had to deal with the stigma and the shame of asking for help, and then it seemed the government made asking for this help as difficult as possible!

 

In a similar fashion to the stigma of unemployment, the social ramifications for being on government assistance programs felt detrimental to my mental health recovery. I would feel the need to sidestep discussions and deflect the conversation onto another topic when the issue of where my income came from and how I was able to afford to live on my own came up. Reflecting on the majority of my time on these programs, this stigma caused me to isolate myself and negatively affected my mental and emotional health while I was attempting to gain my life back after being diagnosed with a severe mental illness. 

 

While people who live on government assistance programs are vilified and looked down on, the wealthy who have benefited from corporate welfare are celebrated to the point of cult-like worship. Despite the similar fashion that people on government assistance programs and the wealthy owners of corporations receive government subsidies, the extreme contrast with how the two groups are viewed by society as a whole reflects the extreme contrast in power to control public opinion. With the United States government resembling more of an oligarchical plutocracy than a republic, the wealthy ruling class in the U. S. has a complete chokehold on the way attitudes towards lower class people are formed. The dissolving U.S. middle-class fears falling into the lower classes more than coming to the realization that the middle-class has more in common with the lower class than they do with the capitalist class. Perhaps only through a total collapse of the current economic and social order will there be any hope of changing attitudes among the “middle-class” towards those in the lower class. While this is a more extreme scenario, it might be the only way for the working class to congeal into a unified force for the change needed to break free from the divisive rhetoric and prejudicial attitudes that are so prevalent within the culture of the United States.  


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