Urban Confrontation; 15; Welfare in America: $5500 or Fight George Wiley
From Northeastern University urban confrontation the most disheartening thing is the feeling of helplessness that people have for most of them they're trapped. There is no real way for them to provide adequately for their families. Most of those mothers would gladly go out and get a job and work if there was only something they could do to provide adequately for their children. And the drive that drives them to organize and to demonstrate in the press the welfare part of or more money is the drive of motherhood and through this organization through pressing on the wealthy they see some way a ray of hope for getting some more money for their families. But most of them would work if they had any reasonable shot at getting a job. Most of them would want to work. But it's the hopelessness of being trapped with no job with no possibility with no opportunity with seeing your children with inadequate clothes with inadequate opportunity day after day having to live in dirty housing Renne down housing without proper clothing without proper food without proper medical care obviously is really just a depressing kind of cycle.
It is that I think that makes many welfare recipients really give up and really apathetic or very hostile to the society. This week on urban confrontation George Whitely executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization discussing welfare in America could be $500 or fight. Here is your host Joseph Harbingers. The sounds of the American city the city is Washington. I'm one of the most explosive issues in Washington or any other city in America today is the issue of welfare welfare mothers are demanding more assistance. Middle income taxpayers pinched by inflation are refusing to give more assistance refusing to pay tax money for welfare programs and in the middle is the Richard Nixon administration. The president has proposed a new guaranteed income of sixteen hundred dollars for families of four with work
incentives. He has been criticized on the right by those who oppose the welfare concept from any angle. I don't the left by the National Welfare Rights Organization. Well today we're talking to Dr. George Wiley of the National. Welfare Rights Organization and not organizations Washington headquarters on the first question is Dr. Wiley Why do you object to what is really the first major welfare legislation to come out of the 20th century Republican president. What is wrong with Richard Nixon's proposals. Well we have Jack first to the ballyhooing this proposal as being a major reform. Basically it's a small step it's a token step. It does not do fundamental things to the welfare system it does not substantially change it and it basically does not provide an adequate level of subsistence for the people who are presently on welfare. Let's take a look at the proposal and get your response to each section of it. The first section that there will be a national minimum of welfare payments which will fatten the checks in 20 states so that
no state pays less than sixteen hundred dollars a year for a family of four. And this will raise millions of Southern rural families from a near starvation level and keep many Southern poor people from migrating to the big cities of the urban states that have higher payments. That's very questionable and that it will do much about migration is there's little reason to think that people migrate from soft to north because of welfare. People don't know about the different welfare payments in the various states. First of all people don't know of their rights or entitlements to welfare. Even in the states where they live. And the result is for every person on welfare there's at least another person eligible but not receiving any. That's in the state or in the city. And so the notion that somebody would know about welfare payments in another part of the country is really absurd. Let's take a look at the second part of Nixon's legislation that part which will expand the welfare rolls to include millions of people who now work but who earn less than seven hundred and twenty dollars a year. There is no incentive for them to earn more when a family earns over
seven hundred twenty dollars the surplus is not deducted in total from its welfare allowance as occurs in the present time the Nixon proposal is not to deduct it instead the recipient gives up only 50 cents 50 percent in welfare for every dollar. Learned until the combined income reaches three thousand two hundred ninety dollars for a family of four now what your reaction of this part of the proposal. It's three thousand nine hundred twenty is thirty nine twenty is the maximum for a family of four who works well the basic problem is that the sixteen hundred dollar floor is really totally inadequate to meet the needs of a family. What that means is on the average about $400 per year per individual. Now nobody could live on that amount of money. And the fact that in eight states in the south the levels are below that simply means that those states really are subhuman in their treatment of poor people. And it's laudable that some improvement is being made in the standards in those areas. But let me add that the present time only 15
percent of the total welfare population lives in those eight Southern states for 85 percent of the recipients in the lowest paid welfare categories the aid to families to with dependent children. This plan represents no increase in payments. And in fact we can show that it probably will result in some reduction. It's really a question of misplaced priorities in this country that we spend a lot of money on bombs on guns on tanks on ABM on perpetrating a war on some helpless people in Viet Nam. And yet we do not want to spend the comparable amount of money to support life here at home. Let us on that note take a look at a third section of the Nixon welfare proposals. Any able bodied head of a household receiving welfare is required to take training or a job if appropriate work is available. The proposal on the government will finance daycare centers for the children of working mothers mothers of preschool children will be
exempt. Now what is your reaction to that part of that proposal actually is a coercive. And regress of proposal I might mention that similar proposals were brought forward in 1967 when the Social Security Act was amended. The proposals very similar to that were passed in 1907 and they have been totally ineffective in reducing the welfare rolls. Yes they will harass some poor people. Yes they would intimidate some poor people and indeed it's possible particularly in some southern states that these things may be used to prevent people from getting access to family assistance or to welfare. The fact of the matter is however that poor people are organizing all over the country. We plan to fight to protect the rights of people to protect people from being pushed off welfare into a dead end job or into a training program it doesn't lead anywhere. Why do you assume that the training programs will lead nowhere the jobs will be dead then isn't that a rather negative way to see the actions of your government is constantly trying to coerce you and push you
off welfare. Well if you heard any of the testimony at the Senate Finance Committee if you heard any of the discussion on the floor of the House of Representatives when the Nixon plan was under discussion you'd find that the politicians are talking about forcing people off welfare and forcing people to work. All they seem to be able to talk about is how can we get people off welfare how can we force them into jobs. It's on what is wrong with work. Worry if you're a hard working man I had trouble getting in here to see you only one part of a very long and lengthy schedule for you today is obvious you probably got up at six o'clock this morning and go to bed at 2 the sleeving the thing is that I have a job and well I don't have a problem but work at least Congress some or all of people on welfare have a job. If you want people on welfare have jobs we could help them design some programs to create jobs. There are not enough jobs to go around. There are not training programs that lead people into jobs programs programs like putting poor people into a holding pattern where they go into this training program. They're
teaching people in fact the most absurd one I heard is teaching Indians how to plant corn. Now I thought the Indians taught us how to plant corn. We came here but I know of a training program where teaching Navajo Indians how to plant corn. Now that's just how absurd it gets. Moses busy work programs is that what you're saying. Well the fact of the matter would you know what kind of a program would you propose as an alternative. Specifics. Well in the past they have not been meaningful training programs that have led to any jobs. I would contend that for most of the poor people who have very low educational levels particularly for those of us who are black that's largely because we have been denied educational opportunities. People have not had decent schools to go to. They've been segregated they've been discriminated against. So it is not possible for people to compete as engineers or schoolteachers or in some of the many technical jobs that whether there is a demand are plentiful. Now they're prepared to repair and really give people some substantial adult education
like for five years it may take to train them for some decent job. I want to tell you that I know of thousands upon thousands of welfare subpoenas that are ready if you talk about what you want if you don't. Any congressman and explain to them your legitimate feelings instead of standing at football fields length apart and shouting words down a football field like coercive and oppressive and then they're shouting lazy back at you and catering to the poor I mean why don't you people get together we're going to have to do that in this country pretty soon aren't we. Well we've been there. I want to tell you that we have attempted to testify before every congressional committee that has hurt our welfare our welfare rights groups have applied to testify we tried to testify we tried to present information. We've had a very difficult time even getting a hearing. Russell Long has attacked our people every time they've come up has denied our people opportunity says many of our people opportunities to testify that frankly many of the politicians don't appear to want to listen to poor people. They do not appear to want to listen to the recommendations and proposals that poor people have to make
about how in adequate many of these programs are. Could you put yourself in their shoes and tell me what you think the reason might be for why they don't want to listen to poor people. Well I think it's fairly simple. I think that basically they have looked upon poor people as not having much political power. Poor people have not been organized poor people have not had the political clout at the polls on these politicians. And we have frankly organizing and we are shouting and we are demanding and we are pressing because we are out to develop as much political power as we can for poor people and by let them know there and I let them know we're angry and let them know we're upset. We have some possibility that somebody is going to begin to listen. You know I want to pause at this point in the program before we pursue that to let those around the country who may have just tuned in Know That We're talking with Dr. George Wiley. He is executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization we're talking here in his
office as the audience no doubt can detect this office is in a city the city arms of a Washington there goes a bust right down the street. Well by all this development of organization and political clout and with all of the time that you're spending on it. Do you know that you're coming across through the news media as developing power to merely get more of the same free ride from the government. That is one of the things that people fear. Now that you're organized you'll want even more. In exchange for less work even more of an assistance by the government. And that is what the organization is seen as and feared because of it. Well I mean your public relations are ok it's poor public relations but let me say on the first hand we are committed to keep the people who we are helping to organize. We are committed to keeping them from starving. We're going to need friends and allies. Our most basic fight is the daily fight for survival that those people have with the welfare departments the fight to keep the
check from being cut off the fight to get on welfare when you are in desperate need and have taken on the fight to get school clothing or to get some furniture I guess a bed when it breaks down. Now we have to do those basic struggles and those not on loading the operation in its own right. I mean you're just wanting to survive. That's the state as well that's not. Will you call it the status quo for somebody that's easy for me to say I want I had a good meal a few hours ago. All right well but I'm going to. It's a matter of life or death for those people and I want to say to the other people that are concerned about the welfare costs going up in the welfare rolls going up. I want to put it in another vein. Let's recognize the fact that there are 30 million people in this country who live below the official government poverty line. Thirty million people. You got that. There are only 10 million people on welfare. Now that means to me that you've got at least 20 million to go. Now that may be hard to swallow but you basically everybody that's below that poverty level ought to be getting public assistance.
Now we say if somebody has got a job for those people to get them above the poverty level fine. And let me say the poverty line is not an adequate income. The Labor Department statistics show fifty five hundred dollars for a family of four rather than the thirty seven hundred at the poverty line as being the adequate income level and below the fifty five hundred dollar level. There are something like 56 million people in the country. Now there are only 10 million on welfare. So I must say that there are another 46 million people who need to get some form of assistance even they need to get helped into a job or they're in a job and they need more money from their job. A new job needs to be created for them or they need to get into a training program that trains them for a job that pays them adequate wages. Or you know I would put this as a last resort or if there's no job or if you're too sick or disabled or can't work then there should be an income floor of at least fifty five hundred dollars to sustain that person.
Now we put the latter thing first because we know from past history we don't trust anybody and so we're saying Look make an income floor so that nobody can fall through the cracks. And then we will begin discussing ways of creating jobs and those are the kind of things or we'll be willing to discuss both at the same time. But let's provide the basic income maintenance for everybody who doesn't have an adequate income. And yet given the fact that this is a very prosperous and affluent country for most Americans not for many but for most wouldn't be justified even from the point of view of a tactic or a public relations ploy. Wouldn't it be good for you to emphasize not only survival but also improvement giving people the means by which they can support themselves in the end. Talk about that just as much as they are putting that ceiling under them economically in order to gain a broader base of support in this country for the programs which seem to be very justifiable proposals. We believe that fifty five hundred dollars for a family of four is a floor. It is a
floor which allows people the basic necessities of life above which they can begin to climb. We think people who can work will work and will make additional income above that and we think it is necessary to begin at that basic level and then for people to work from there. I want to say about the people who are concerned about this program that our proposal is that everybody who does not have an adequate income and that includes people who are laid off from their jobs. And I know a lot of people throughout the Midwest for example who are being laid off from jobs who I know farmers who can't produce enough crops to earn a decent income. I know many people who work at substandard wages and don't have enough money and who don't have fifty five hundred dollars. We're talking about a program that people get as a matter of right that comes with dignity. And that is something for everybody in this country it does not have an adequate income. And I think a lot of people should be interested in that. I must say in our program we also have a work
incentive. It's not like the Nixon work incentive that while on one hand exempting a part of earned income on the other hand has a club that is going to force somebody into a job even if that job doesn't suit the person. The kind of income exemption we say is to simply exempt one third of earned income. We feel that this should provide a person who works to be able to work his way above the 50 $500 floor. What that means in practical terms is that any family of four with an income below $10000 would directly benefit from our plan. So it is only the people above $10000 and the corporations that would be paying the cost of the end of the yarrow proposal. So we're not taking from somebody who is making $8000 and giving it to somebody who's making five thousand indeed as happens regrettably in our present welfare system. Some people who are working and making $3000 are paying taxes to support somebody on welfare who gets thirty
five hundred. Now that's inequitable. Our plan only people above 10000 would be paying in and everybody below 10000 would be getting a benefit from the way ours is calculated. You know one of the most interesting things which you said of few months ago was that there ought to be a welfare program. As a matter of right a welfare program that could be administered to people with dignity. The interesting thing I think talking about the dignity and the right to have a welfare program is that most Americans feel that the government doesn't owe anyone a living that people ought to make their own living and there is no right to assistance from Uncle Sam. We believe as a right we think that governments are instituted among men to promote the general welfare of the population. When you have a sector of the population that because of the way our industry is located because it's moved out because people have been discriminated against or left behind in our economy people who for no fault of their own can't produce an adequate income. We think there is an abundant wealth to
provide a minimum income floor for every person. You know the interesting thing is that there is an abundant American tradition for that land grant colleges set up for rural people by the government the government helping the railroad industry get started after the civil war freed land to squatters in the West. The farmers subsidized by the soil program subsidization of industries through defense contracts there's abundant evidence that the government can move to help great masses of Americans when it is justified and perhaps rationalize in the appropriate manner and I wonder why you're having so much trouble justifying your welfare program to most Americans. Well one thing about this program I think is important is that it's a subsidy that's available to all people not just a special interest group. But it's available to anybody who does not have an adequate income. And one of the tragedies of those other programs is they subsidize special interest groups. And this is not a special interest group. Anybody could fall into circumstance because you become totally disabled and you didn't have enough
insurance or because your husband is killed or you know in the breadwinner dies and doesn't have adequate insurance to cover the family and the mother can't work there any number of circumstances that cause people to be dependent on the society in a modern industrial society. A lot of the things that would fall into the family to the greater family I mean like a cousin or uncle or somebody takes in somebody. Those kinds of supports were available for such tasks more and more fall to the government because the general welfare rather than simply being a greater family responsibility becomes a function of the government and I think that's a very civilized and humane thing that that should be the case and that we should provide a way so that nobody has to starve that nobody has to be destitute with the amount of wealth and resources that we have in this country we clearly can do it. We could do it without raising taxes we could do it without any great strain on the economy. We could do it in fact with a great addition to the health and stability of the country. And I
think that such a thing should be a matter of right. It would be a matter of right simply if the Congress would pass a law establishing the right to a certain basic income. We think the Constitution establishes the right to life. We talk about the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness as among the inalienable rights. How can you have access to life in a modern industrial society if you don't have the income to provide you with the basic necessities of life. You can't you know so much of what you've said in the past 30 minutes. I think perhaps goes right in one ear and out the other ear of the average American because most Americans do not live the kind of life that you are protesting do not see the kind of misery that you see when you are doing something about and I'll be quite frank to say that were I not a person who did radio programs on all the pressing issues of this country faces I probably would not be aware of that I came from a similar affluent background the American middle class most people come from it. What could you tell people listening to this program at this
very moment about. What it's like to live on welfare and to have the necessity to seek welfare. The average day for the person on welfare the most disheartening thing is the feeling of helplessness that people have. The fact that there is for most of them they're trapped and that there is no real way for them to provide adequately for their families. I mean there's no job available to them. Most of the people even the mothers on welfare I might say mothers with dependent children which is the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program is the largest and the most controversial category. Most of those mothers would gladly go out and get a job and work if there was only something they could do that provide adequately for the children and the drive that drives them to organize and to demonstrate in the press the welfare part of or more money is the drive of motherhood in the drive that through this organization through pressing and the welfare they see some way a ray of hope for getting some more
money for their families. But most of them would work if they had any reasonable shot of getting a job. Most of them would want to work. But it's the hopelessness of being trapped with no job with no possibility with no opportunity with seeing your children with inadequate clothes with inadequate opportunity day after day having to live in dirty housing Renne down housing without proper clothing without proper food without proper medical care obviously is really just a depressing kind of cycle. It is that I think that makes many welfare recipients really give up and really apathetic or very hostile to the society where the very end of this program people cannot see your face. But it's an odd thing. Most people on the radical fringes of our society. Most militant people who aren't perhaps that radical but are very concerned about where the societies drift have lost their sense of humor you're a man who can smile the audience can't see it. They are a man with a sense of humor the audience perhaps is not aware of that and yet I wonder
whether you can be very hopeful about where the country is heading with regard to the problem of welfare and the problem of the hopelessness of life for this minority of Americans. If they organize they will probably be crushed. Some feel if they don't organize they will probably be forgotten by an affluent majority of Americans. I see in building organization and building a massive broad base of poor people who organize together in cities across the country as representing a form of political power that I think could be quite formidable. And I think could bring about some changes. I think for example that it is only because there is a National Welfare Rights Organization that a conservative indeed a reactionary administration like the Nixon administration is putting forth any proposal for a welfare reform at all. I don't think the proposal is inadequate I don't think it does the job but it puts about four and a half billion
dollars into poor people's program. Nothing comparable is being done in any other area that it involves poor people or involves black people. And I think that is only as a result of the fact that everybody recognizes the welfare system as being in crisis. It is in crisis because poor people are organized and are pressing against it and have exposed its inadequacies have. Mate it's contradictory parts come into conflict with one another and have it on the verge of collapse. And on the verge of chaos. And I think that that is one of the sources of political power that welfare rights has been able to wield. Sixty seconds remaining one very last question you describe the Nixon administration as a conservative and a reactionary one. If that is your description of the Nixon administration what will your organization do if the George Wallace's and the Ronald Reagans got into office. We have to continue to wage a grassroots struggle. We have to organize to help see to it that those people don't get into office. We have to build some base of power that we think could
be a balance of electoral power that would help prevent some of those kind of people from getting elected. But our basic strength is in the numbers of poor people who can organize and who can demonstrate and who can effectively use the ballot and who can use the other means of political power at their disposal. In the past three or four weeks audiences around the country listening to this series of her doctors on my air Nixon's advisor on matters of malnutrition and health and hunger. Reverend Jesse Jackson of Operation Breadbasket a spokesman for Chicago's poor people and now a very articulate executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization George Wiley thank you very much Mr. Wiley. Northeastern University have brought you George wine executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization discussing welfare in America. Fifty five
hundred dollars for fight. The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program were not necessarily those of Northeastern University or the station's. Questions I asked where the moderators method of presenting many sides of today's topic. Your program host has been Joseph R. Bader Director Department of radio production. This week's program was produced by Peter Lance and Carolyn Gartrell directed by Robert emmel technical supervision by led me to my executive producer for urban confrontation is Peter Lance. Urban confrontation is produced for the division of instructional communications at the nation's largest private university. Northeastern University. Requests for a tape recorder copy of any program in this series may be addressed to urban confrontation. Northeastern University in Boston Massachusetts hoped to one modify. Their announcer Dave Hammond.
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- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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