About Those “Takers”

For the past three years or so, I’ve had my house cleaned once a month–an indulgence I justify to myself on the grounds that it frees up time I can use to write and teach. The woman who does the cleaning lives on a farm in Johnson County; most months, she brings her two teenagers with her. She has been utterly dependable, and has a key to the house; on “cleaning days,” I generally leave her money on the dining room table and go about my business.

Last Friday, I came home while the “crew” was still here. The teens were working, but their mom was sitting in her car in front of the house. The boy explained that his mother had had a heart attack that Monday.

I was appalled. Why on earth didn’t she postpone? Why was she driving? The son agreed. Looking concerned, he explained that she was worried about losing me (and others) as a client if she wasn’t dependable–and that he and his sister can’t drive.  I went to talk to her–to reassure her that I would have been fine with a postponement, that her health should come first–and I asked her about health insurance. She had Medicaid, she said, but “that doesn’t pay the light bill or put food on the table.” She assured me that she’d “be fine.”

Tell me again about Paul Ryan’s description of the “lazy” poor, and the “substandard” work ethic nurtured by their “culture.” Tell me again about Mitt Romney’s disdain for the 47% of Americans who just want to live off the “makers.” Tell me again about those constant Fox News’ stories about people who “rip off” taxpayers and live high on that generous social safety net we provide.

How many of the self-satisfied assholes who look down their noses at the growing numbers of struggling Americans would get out of their beds three days after a heart attack and go to work?

And how can the richest country in the world justify a system in which that’s necessary?


  1. If you haven’t done so already (which you probably have), I urge you to read Nickeled & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. This story put me so much in mind of the chapters when she worked for The Maids. . .

  2. All I can say is, thank you Sheila. For your reaction/response to your personal connection to one of Ryan’s targets and for this blog which I hope will be forwarded by your readers to inform a few of the detractors of those who lack understanding of the “lazy” poor and the “substandard” work ethic by their “culture”. Wonder who scrubs Ryan’s toilets? Wonder if they are paid what they are worth or do they try to live on minimum wage and do they qualify for food stamps due to his greed and avarice?

  3. Most Americans DO work hard and play by the rules. God bless this woman and her family. THEY are what make America a good country. Not the 1%. These people ARE America.

  4. Apparently, Ted Cruz has a facebook question about Obamacare getting signed 4 yrs ago and whether or not anyone is better off than four years ago – Yes or No. And the responses were in the 40 thousands with the YES as the answer by a factor of 4:1. Ha ha ha…That man was scorned on his own facebook page. This country needed the ACA to start four years or four decades ago…and some of us are still breathing because of it.

  5. The great disservice is from those who begin by saying, “A lot of people need help, but I knew a guy who…” Another anecdote about the bad guy scam artist. Then people who are persuaded by one story anecdotal “evidence” come to believe that struggling people are just scam artists.

    It’s interesting that when you hear an anecdote about a 1% scammer, people come to the defense of the rest of the one percenters. Could something be wrong here?

  6. The difficulty is when you personalize it, everyone can see it. But Paul Ryan does the same thing. He and others personalize their “but I knew a guy” stories too. Unfortunately we all tend to believe what we want to believe and we let these stories influence “for the better good”! We let anecdotal religion and age old prejudice stories continue to influence what we have been taught. We are so easily influenced by this that the truth and real statistics aren’t taken into account. No one comes at this topic with a clean slate! How do you change that!

  7. Rapidly mutating, and I use that word advisedly, demographics are devastating the long term predictions and ambitions of the GOP. The ’60s, which heralded the ’70s, were so destructive of their plans for a new world that their backlash brought on the years of GOP retrogression of the ’80s. Yes, Woodstock directly influenced The John Birch Society and, silently proclaiming ‘Never Again!’ they morphed from the KKK to the Reaganites; currently masquerading as the Tea Party. Different name, same game. These people have no concept of how the New World is going to be ordered and the last opportunity for the apocalypse passed in the ’80s. Since those years the races and the religions around the world have blended to the point of being no longer clearly identifiable. Half the people with swastikas tattooed on their arms are now carrying little black babies through the local Walmart.. The GOP doesn’t shop at Walmart and are unable to see this. It may not be tomorrow, and the senate may fall to the Klan, but the arc of justice still bends. Why chance it? How do we know what Hillary will do? Could Bill have vetoed NAFTA? Why risk it? Let’s go for broke. AFLC has stacked the state legislatures against the people. So the only seat winnable is the oval office. Who could better stand up to Jeb? Run Liz, run!

  8. Stuart; you and I realize there will always be “I knew a guy” bad guys who abuse the system. There are always going to be those “takers” who should not be receiving public assistance or Social Security Disabiity or Medicaid; the caseloads are unimaginable but…do workers even attempt to qualify applicants for any form of assistance? The vast majority do need help and are qualified by circumstance to receive assistance; Ryan and his ilk are pointing to the comparative few who are scamming the system and claim they are the norm. This is the way it has always been and this is the way it will always be…just as there will always be the dozens of “Paul Ryans” in positions of power to try to convince the public that the poor are all lazy and undeserving. What was he doing during this past legislative session to improve situations in this country?

    Am I the only one who remember the work Julia Carson did as Washington Township Trustee? She remembered her ill treatment as a child when she and her mother needed food. During her years as Trustee, she and her staff worked after hours to visit homes of applicants for assistance. If they found that the applicant had lied; Ms. Carson took legal action against them to force them to repay what they had received. This is the way the system SHOULD work; one woman alone proved it COULD be done. Many of the current GOP, bought and paid for by the Tea Party/Koch Brothers system, are the ones ripping off tax payers and trying to divert attention to those who cannot fight back.

  9. I’m glad I don’t have to talk to anybody for a while–I don’t trust myself to be able to carry on a conversation without bursting into tears after reading this. The clock has been moved back 100 years. We couldn’t afford doctors then, and no one, NO ONE went into a hospital. It would bankrupt the family. I don’t go to doctors for ‘screenings’ because I can’t afford to have whatever they are screening for. I am too ‘rich’ for a subsidy for the cheapest bronze policy on the exchange, so am stuck with my cheaper major medical policy, but in Indiana(stan) there are lots of people to poor to qualify for ACA because no one imagined that Medicaid wouldn’t be expanded. So the emergency room is still the primary care physicians of thousands of hoosiers. Plus, I notice no one castigates employers (mine) who are too cheap to provide health care for their employees, and the loophole of 50 full time employees lets lots of employers off the hook. Why are they allowed to profit from cheating us?

  10. Our great country was built by people just like the woman on your blog…and her children. Those of us who have the time and resources to be activists must do so. We need to get people to the polls during for the midterms, we have to lobby for redistricting reform and campaign finance reform. We have to send money to organizations we trust so they can organize and advocate for the working poor. Thank you Sheila for all you do.

  11. Strictly anecdotal, but I’ve witnessed a ‘taker’ morph into a ‘giver’ over a period of years. She had a name, Bonnie. When my parents were in their early 60s, my mother decided she needed a bit of extra help around the house with cleaning chores, so Bonnie was hired to work one day per week and worked along side my perfectionist mother. With the passing years, my parents decided they needed a bit more help, gradually increased Bonnie’s number of week days per week until in their 80s, my father wisely decided they truly needed help 5 days a week. Along the way, my father decided that Bonnie was a keeper and did not want to risk losing her services to a newly-opened local factory, so he asked for my suggestions. I suggested providing Bonnie with health insurance as a benefit. With a bit of searching, he found a BC/BS health insurance policy for Bonnie and paid the monthly premiums, in full, until his death. Bonnie morphed from cleaning lady to full-time caregiver with expanded duties who served as the bookkeeper for his family farm, met with his accountant regularly, and held POA for medical decisions for the last year of his life when I lived 400 miles away. Before it all ended, Bonnie was placed in his will and received a gift upon his death. I learned a lot about categorizing people after knowing Bonnie for 30 years. By the way, Bonnie is now the receptionist/secretary/chief cook and bottler washer for a small local insurance office in my rather smallish hometown.

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