The Tea Party has taken the neoliberal dream of austerity to a new level, calling for cuts in entitlements that don’t particularly benefit the rich. However, this article is not about those cuts, but rather about the reaction of self-proclaimed progressives on the issue. Rather than fight the battle which can be won, there is a lot of talk about how these programs either are not entitlements or not benefit – which is a patently false and pointless assertion. I have seen it on social media from non-leftist friends, in one instance sharing a post from the notorious Occupy Democrats, and there are articles floating around making the claims, such as an article entitled “Social Security Isn’t an Entitlement – Here’s How to Qualify” from Sean Williams at fool.com.
This is an odd side effect of confirmation bias. People will share posts and narratives from those they generally agree with without doing basic research for themselves first. That research can be, in this case, as simple as entering “entitlement definition” into a Google search bar. Doing so provides this simple definition:
The most basic definition is “the fact of having a right to something.” That shows a clear problem when the argument made by those claiming it isn’t an entitlement because they worked and paid into the system. It is precisely because you work and pay into Social Security and Medicare that you become entitled to them – that they are entitlements. The definition at the bottom, particular to the United States, is notable as well: “[A] government program that provides benefits to any individual meeting certain eligibility requirements.”
Looking up the definition for benefit, we find a very apt definition in “a payment or gift made by an employer, the state, or an insurance company.” Not only does one benefit from receiving these benefits, but these are payments made by the state through social insurance programs. In fact, the slogan adopted by Social Security in the past few years has been “Social Security Benefits America.” Those at the top of the administration’s structure felt this slogan was a witty pun on the benefits they hand out while stressing the importance of the program.
What they appear to be confusing the terms “entitlement” and “benefits” with is welfare.
Welfare is used in North America to describe “financial support given to people in need.” While Google’s source here mistakes Social Security for being a welfare program – which it is not, it is a social insurance program – welfare programs distribute resources to people based upon need rather than paying into a system as their protests describe.
However, perhaps that is something to be very, very concerned about when seeing these claims. The protest is simply that these entitlements, these benefits, should not be touched because they paid into the system and should not be confused with what is actually welfare. Does this mean that they are fine with welfare benefits being slashed or ended altogether?
Neoliberal politics seen from the Democrats since the New Democrats took power in 1993 would suggest the answer is “yes.” Bill Clinton’s term is known for its welfare reform which destroyed families, especially families of color.
Back onto the main topic, other basic research could have revealed that these are entitlements and benefits. The Social Security Administration refers to Social Security and Medicare benefits – there isn’t another term to use realistically – as something you become entitled to. That OASDHI that comes out fo your paycheck every month, it stands for Old Age, Survivors, Disability, and Health Insurance benefits. This isn’t new either. A 1960 law suit included both entitlement and benefits to describe the system.
So go forward with this knowledge and start arguing why these benefits should be protected – because they should be protected – rather than arguing ridiculous points that clearly were not researched at all.