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The welfare state: The campaign issue no one’s talking about

Overlooked in this election rhetoric are the real struggles of the poor and working class, WUSTL’s Purnell says
By Leslie Gibson McCarthy

The most vulnerable and marginalized groups in this country stand to lose the most in this campaign, says Jason Q. Purnell, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, and all the rhetoric directed at the middle class fails to take into account the very real struggles of the poor and the working class.

 
It’s one of the issues that is being overlooked as the presidential campaign heads into its final weeks.

“Gov. Romney’s comments about the ‘dependent’ 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes highlighted these issues,” Purnell says, “but most of the analysis has focused on how certain groups shouldn’t be considered dependent rather than on the underlying reasons why more and more people rely on the federal government for basic subsistence.”

Purnell says a larger narrative exists around who is “deserving” of government support and what counts as smart financial planning — the subsidies for wealth accumulation claimed by millions of middle- and upper-class Americans — and what gets called “welfare” and “dependency.”

“I do believe this election is a stark choice between a vision in which government has a constructive role to play in enhancing people’s life choices and one in which individuals are largely on their own,” he says.

Purnell says that neither party has a vision for how to address poverty. “Nor does either party have a plan for how to deal with the fact that the fastest growing and youngest segments of the population — who are going to be the ones supporting the Social Security system of the future — are the same populations who are routinely written off in this country in marginalized communities with failing schools, poor access to health care, and disproportionate incarceration,” he says.

Purnell says this is not a viable strategy for a strong nation going forward.

“We need to make large-scale investments in the next several generations if we hope to maintain leadership status globally, particularly in an environment where much of the industrialized world provides a much more robust social safety net for its citizens,” he says.

“If we’re going to be competitive with a unified Europe or an ascendant China, we’re going to have to take a hard look at what our welfare state looks like and stop making welfare a dirty word,” Purnell says.

http://youtu.be/4jq11z3tf7g

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Jason Purnell's research focuses on how socioeconomic and sociocultural factors influence health behaviors in underprivileged. 

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Leslie McCarthy
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Jason Q. Purnell
Assistant Professor
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jpurnell@wustl.edu