I mentioned in a recent post how stories influence public policy. Social supports are sold on the idea of a poor downtrodden individual who has a run of bad luck, and putting a system in place to catch them before they hit bottom. It may be a woman with children trying to escape a cycle of abuse at the hands of her husband, a family just scraping by when a child is diagnosed with leukemia, or an immigrant family who runs a convenience store and one of the members is shot in a robbery (and they don’t have emotional support to deal with the aftermath).
You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to say “screw them!” to people in any of these situations, and I think it’s VERY rare that anyone actually has that reaction. Most people I’ve known, from across the political spectrum, genuinely want to help people who are in a tough place. They often just differ on the best way to help them.
I often wonder how much the reality of the populations being served by these programs match the image they are sold on. I also wonder why none of these people have friends or family that can help them.
My personal “safety net” in order of desirability is: self-insurance, insurance, friends and family, and government programs. I’m fortunate that self-insurance takes care of most of the risks in my life (I’m single, so I don’t need life insurance, and as a grubby grad student disability insurance would be close to useless). The biggest risk for me currently would be liability involving my condo, and I have insurance that covers that (with a very high deductible).
If I ran into problems in my life that neither of these would take care of (say a prolonged serious illness that depleted my savings or that prevented me from taking care of myself) friends and family would be the next place I’d look for help. I have one friend I know for sure would take me in no matter what happened, and within my family there are two homes that would also put me up. Two other friends would certainly give me a place to stay for a short period (say a couple of months) while I got back on my feet from a temporary setback. When we talked about this once Mike jokingly said I could move in with him if I was willing to change dirty diapers.
So that gives me 5 homes I could potential depend on before I’d throw myself on the mercy of the state (and one place I could exchange diaper duty for rent). If an unpleasant person like me has that many options (I’d do the same for any of them, heck maybe *I’d* start wearing diapers if Mike moved in with me to give him something to do 😉 ) who I can count on if I fell into real trouble, who are these people who don’t have anyone? What kind of a SOB would you have to be to not have anyone to help you if you were living with abuse, an illness or the consequences of a criminal attack?
The purpose of this post isn’t to argue against government programs to help people in trouble. I often wish there was more transparency about who was being helped and how. The real point I’m getting at here is that your social network is one of the most valuable safety nets most of us have (and often we don’t considered it when thinking about “worst case scenarios”).
How many people in your life could you count on to take care of you if you fell into real trouble? How many people would you be willing to take care of?