Sharon Hays On The Real Cost Of Welfare Reform
Look at it this way: Keeping a child on welfare costs about sixteen hundred dollars a year in cash and services. To keep that same child in foster care costs about six thousand dollars a year. And if that child winds up in prison, the cost is around twenty thousand dollars a year. Most governments figured out a long time ago that welfare is the cheapest way to keep people out of institutions — and also to keep them from taking to the streets to protest their poverty.
All that winter, when I was deep into my self-deprivation, self-imposed-poverty phase, I walked the filthy, noisy streets of downtown LA, my used laptop on my back, toting a Ralph’s grocery bag containing my lunch: a quart yogurt container of brown rice and cabbage, a half-rotten apple, and a few crumbled matzohs (two boxes for ninety-nine cents at the ninety-nine-cent store).
I knew my mother would find out before fall, when I’d leave home to find a real job. I’d watch her at the sink, her roan hair falling down, her round face red from the steaming dishwater, and I’d think about telling her, but it was impossible to open my mouth. I was sure something just under her pale skin would break if I revealed the truth: that my father was having an affair with a woman who looked like a man.
I’m not really all that comfortable with foreign people. I always catch myself being overly friendly, nicer than I really am, my nouns and verbs more carefully selected, doggedly enunciated, punctuated with tight smiles. And volume is a problem. I start high, and after fifteen minutes, I hear myself yelling. Words far too kind, in a fortissimo that wears everybody out.
My medication, I believe, is optional. They say you are supposed to take it regularly, but of course they say that: it means more dough for them. Why don’t I take my medicine? Because I don’t want to walk through life like a zombie. I love Rex, but I don’t want to act like him, wandering from room to room without knowing why. Paul and Bonnie would love for me to take my medicine. I’m easier to control when I take it, they say, and I’m more fun.