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Guest Post: Stop Judging Me for Being on Welfare

Editor’s Note: In media and popular culture, the myth of the “welfare queen” is still present. Obviously, this stereotype does not reflect the reality of people who need government assistance. Today’s guest post is from a single mother on welfare and how she constantly feels judged by society for getting a “free ride” when it’s anything but. 


When I was twenty-one years old, I ran away from my abusive family and into the arms of someone even worse. We had a tumultuous and abusive marriage, and one day, two years ago, my husband just didn’t come home. He literally just did not come home, and for all intents and purposes, he vanished. He quit his job and moved in with a girlfriend that I didn’t even know he had, and that was that. I was left with a three-year-old daughter, a seven-month-old son, no job, no money, and no family to help me. Not only did he not come home, but before he left, he took everything of value from the house and cleaned out our joint bank account. I was completely screwed.
For reasons that were beyond my control, I never finished college, and when he left, I was a stay-at-home mom. Like I said, I was completely screwed. How was I going to support myself and the kids? If I worked a minimum wage job, which was the only thing I was qualified to do, I wouldn’t even break even on daycare costs, let alone pay my bills. I watched as the food ran out, the bills piled up, and the house fell into foreclosure.

Two years later, I am back on my feet in the most basic of ways. I clean houses for a meager living, and while it pays some bills, it doesn’t pay them all. To even be able to break even on daycare costs, I am forced to rely on a state daycare subsidiary.

We rely heavily on food stamps, but because of some severe dietary restrictions that result in our food costing more than what it might for the average person, I am never able to stretch them far enough.

I kept my private insurance for as long as I could, but a few months ago, I lost the financial battle and was forced to go on Medicaid.

Being in this situation makes me feel like a loser. As a mother, it’s my job to support the two children that I brought into this world, and I can’t, and so for that reason, I feel awful. What’s worse is that I am constantly reminded by social media outlets that I should feel awful. Every day, I hear, read, or see something, or someone, complaining about how people like me, people on welfare, are just lazy. There are Facebook memes calling people like me “society’s trash,” news headlines screaming about the “welfare scammers,” and radio show hosts that go on and on about how I’m probably sitting at home and watching TV while others are working to provide me with a salary. It makes me feel about one inch tall, like I should just climb into a trashcan, where society can throw me and all of the other useless people away.

I’m reminded of how society views me every time I swipe my food stamp card in the check-out line, and the cashier looks me up and down, her judging eyes boring into my soul. People are so hardened by stories of the scammers that they forget that some people truly are just in a bad spot. I’m reminded of this when I show up to the ER with a sick child, I hand them my Medicaid card, and the nurse quickly looks us over, assessing me and the kids. What is she looking for exactly? Should we “look” homeless? Should we not bathe before we come in?


Every day when I wake up, I feel like it’s me against the world. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., I have to get the kids up, take my five-year-old to daycare and my two-year-old to therapy (he has special needs). After therapy, I drop him off at daycare and then head to work where I scrub houses for the next eight hours. After that, it’s back to daycare, home for dinner, baths, homework, and bedtime. When the kids are down, I do everything that needs to be done to run a household and a life, finally crawling into bed around midnight. The alarm goes off a few hours later and I’m back at it again, but according to society, I’m not doing enough, because I’m still poor.

I don’t know what else to do. If someone has an answer, please, I’d love to hear it, because I don’t know where to go from here. I’m working on a long term career plan with a not-for-profit that I’m founding, but right now, I’m stuck, and I can’t find my way out.

I’m tired of fighting for my dignity. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not doing enough. I’m tired of being made to feel less than just because I’m poor.

No one knows what goes on in my household. They don’t hear me tell my kids that there is not enough food for a second helping of dinner. They don’t know that I didn’t eat dinner at all so that my kids could have their first serving. They don’t know that our clothes came out of a trash bag someone left on our front porch. They don’t know that we are a broken family, that I’m a thrown-away wife, who is doing the very best that she can.

To them, I’m nothing more than a statistic, a liability.

They don’t know that I’m the mom who has to say “no” all the time. That I’m the mom who watched her five-year-old come bounding out of kindergarten possessing the exuberance that only a five-year-old can, while she exclaimed, “Mommy! Lindsay and Callie are going to see the movie Frozen, can we go too?”  They don’t know that I saw the plight in her eyes, glimmering with a small ray of hope, and knowing that deep down, she already knew the answer. It never gets any easier.  I still see her heart break every time she hears it. They don’t hear me say “I’m sorry baby, but we just can’t.” They don’t hear me say it yesterday, they don’t hear me say it today, and they won’t hear me say it tomorrow. They don’t know that she has never been to the movies, never been bowling, never been ice skating, doesn’t get to partake in gymnastics or dance, they don’t know that. They don’t know that we didn’t write letters to Santa, because Santa wasn’t coming. They weren’t there. They didn’t see my children’s faces when I sold all of their toys online to make the mortgage payment. They didn’t help me try and shove my daughter’s feet into too-small shoes, desperately trying to make them last a few weeks longer. They don’t see any of that, and yet, they judge me.

I’m not ok with this anymore. I know that society doesn’t feel that I should have any rights because I am living off of the tax money that has been taken from them, but I’m not OK with being judged anymore. I know that they all think that since they are feeding me, I should just keep my mouth shut, but I just can’t do it anymore.

Do people think I don’t want to trade places with them? I would love to be them, I used to be them! If someone offered me a job today that paid all my bills and forced me to “donate” my tax dollars to people like me, I would take it in a heartbeat, because right now, I’m working myself to the bone and still not able to eat three meals a day. Stop judging me! I’m doing the very best that I can. If it makes anyone feel any better, I know that it’s not enough. I don’t need to be reminded every time I turn on the radio, or check my facebook and see people ranting and raving about us “lazy welfare folk.”

When you’re a little girl, you envision meeting your prince, and if you are anything like me, you envision having babies, a home, a happy family, and a happy life. What you don’t expect is your prince running off, abandoning you with two small children, always being one dollar away from not having a home, going to bed most nights hungry, and having all of society view you as nothing more than a burden.

I’m worth more than that. I am strong, I am determined, and I am trying. I will claw my way out of this hole. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but it until it happens, I won’t give up. In the meantime, I just need society to lay off of me for a little while. Stop kicking me when I’m down, it’s not helping. I have dreams. I want to be a writer. I want to be a mother that can give her children the things they deserve. I want my not-for-profit to really be able to help people. I want everything that everyone else has, and living off of other people’s tax dollars for the rest of my life is not a part of that plan.

I am not a statistic. I am a hard worker, a fighter, a survivor, a mother, and above all, I am a person.

Stop judging me.


Author’s Note: Eden Strong is a single mother recovering from an abusive past. More of her crazy story can be read on her blog at http://itisnotmyshametobear.blogspot.com/

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Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Eden, you have tremendous strength and courage to do what you do…and to deal with society’s negative stereotypes. I am so sorry you have had to go through the troubles you’ve been through and I hope the future will have better possibilities for you. You should be praised, not scorned. Thank you for doing all you can for your children. I just wish our society had better resources for people in your situation…and that the stigma would disappear. Until someone has faced the extremely dire circumstances you have been in, they have no idea what you face.

  2. Thanks for the great post. If you ever want to do some reading about how ridiculous the whole “welfare queen” concept is, I strongly recommend this Josh Levin article about the original source of the term: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2013/12/linda_taylor_welfare_queen_ronald_reagan_made_her_a_notorious_american_villain.html. The fact that one psychopath was able to exploit the system should have no bearing on how we view the millions of people that receive badly needed assistance (and far too little of that).

  3. A few years ago, at a music & dance camp, I met a retired schoolteacher who had just published a book about her years on welfare: “Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother.” Her story is perhaps different from the usual stereotype (but then, most people who get stereotyped differ from the stereotype), but her description of life in poverty and on welfare and the near-impossibility of getting out of poverty without outside help are quite similar to other people’s stories. BTW, this was back in the 1970’s, in that brief period when it wasn’t chic to overtly treat poor people as criminals. I’m sure things are a lot worse now, with the ever-worsening job market at all levels (except the top 1%, of course), the evaporation of formal and informal safety nets, welfare “reform,” and the use of long-term incarceration as a response to all social ills.

    Some factoids I recall (I don’t have references — if anyone can confirm or deny them based on reliable reports/statistics — or first-person experience — please reply):

    * There’s no generic “welfare.” I’m only familiar with Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which IIRC mostly deals with single mothers with young children, and SSI, which is IIRC for people judged too disabled to work.

    * The majority of people on welfare are only on it for a limited period of time (5-10 years?) I taught math at one point to mothers who were AFAIK on some kind of assistence, and it seemed that they went on assistance when their children were little and child care would have cost more than anything they could hope to earn, but then went back to work once their kids were old enough to fend for themselves. While it wouldn’t surprise me that a daughter of a woman whose mother was on AFDC when she was small might herself go on AFDC when she has children (children of poor people tend to be poor themselves), AFAIK, the stereotype of “generations on welfare” is a myth.

    * In the US, the majority of people on welfare are white. (At one time, the majority were rural, too.)

    * Food stamps aren’t the same as welfare. They are a subsidy for the US agriculture industry, and most of the restrictions are there for the benifit of the industry. Also, you dn’t have to be on welfare of any kind to get them. I think most of the recipients are working poor (e.g., Walmart employees.)

    Any other myths that need clearing up?

    1. Since the “reform” under Clinton and Gingrich, AFDC and most other “welfare” benefits have been limited to 23 months. Anybody getting assistance for 5-10 years nowadays must have an SSDI condition, I would guess. And even that designation is nearly impossible to receive now — I know amputees who can’t get the nod. Also, “welfare” is an absolutely TINY proportion, well under 1 percent, of our federal and state budgets. We could probably pay for it, nationwide, with what people spend on dog toys.

      But I tell ya what, don’t go telling any suburban white folk that their home mortgage deductions and tuition tax credits and dependent child deductions are a form of public assistance…..

  4. We’re not all assholes out here, Eden. Thank you for sharing your story. Millions of hugs :)

  5. I have huge respect for you, Eden, and hope you find your feet soon. It must be so difficult to stay positive and yet you are clearly an incredibly resilient person. I’m sure your kids, in the long run, will realise that while they might not have had material possessions they were loved and looked after. Lots of love from a former welfare kid in the UK xx

  6. Hi, Mary. I was wondering, when you mentioned that you had to drop out of college for reasons beyond your control, were you referring to your husband leaving you with your two kids and taking all of your money, or was there some other reason(i.e., you got sick or were in an accident) that caused you to have to quit college?

    1. Hi Joseph, I’m the author. My husband was very abusivhe, we got married young. In a nutshell behind my back he un enrolled me from college and by the time I realized it my scholarships were gone. Feel free to check out my blog for the deeper story.

  7. Eden, thank you so much for telling your story! I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who can persevere through so many challenges and still keep on trying. i will never look at another food stamps / welfare recipient again without thinking of this post. I wish you all the success you deserve in your future endeavors!

  8. I absolutely hate this “welfare queen” bullshit, and this popular (largely conservative) idea that if you are poor or need help somehow you are inferior. Like being poor is a character flaw. Are you kidding me? We like to talk a good game about the U.S. being a “meritocracy” but most of it is just luck, good or bad.

    If you’re born into an abusive family (I was too, and I was out the door on my 18th birthday) you can forget about that outside support so many enjoy. Also, good luck going to college at the typical age, because you’ll be struggling to make ends meet and maybe to crawl out from under the twenty tons of awful emotional baggage your family saddled you with when you were too young to defend yourself.

    Born into a supportive, upper class family? Get ready for great schools, college, and connections to help get you a good job!

    The second group of people is not better than the first group. There’s no “merit” involved in your family circumstances. And that early support, the family connections, and the ability to get a good education is just priceless in setting you up for a career you can actually live off of! On the other hand, if you start you adult life behind the game it is so frigging hard to catch up! And at that point it just takes one catastrophe, like a serious illness or a marriage you were depending on going bad to completely crush you.

    All of this to say I feel for you, and fuck those people judging you. I just wish our social safety net was bigger, and that we as a country cared about actually helping our citizens who need it instead of demonizing them. I’d happily pay so much more in taxes for that!

    1. Yes!!!! Yes!!! Exactly that!!! Its like you wrote a page out of my very own blog. I hope you pop over there sometime, I’d love to hear your insights on other things as well. It seems as if we came from the same beggining mold.

  9. I hate the term ‘welfare’, as if there aren’t dozens of programs. You’ve got your food stamps, your AFDC, your WIC, your SSI, your disability…and all of it put together still can’t keep up with inflation. (And why don’t we consider defense contractors who make things the Pentagon doesn’t even want parasites? Or railroad companies who threw in the clause where Amtrak always assumes responsibility in case of an accident? Or, right now, chiropractors covered under the PPACA, courtesy of Tom Harkin?)

    What I find most interesting about the ‘welfare queen’ (Yes, she was a real person.) is that her other crimes (human trafficking, drug trafficking, hiring hit men), no one cared about. But the welfare fraud? Like, the one victimless crime in her entire record, everyone just loses their minds.

  10. Dear Eden,

    Honesty and bravery go hand in hand, in my book, and you my dear are blessed with both. I was raised by a woman much like you. I just want you to know that there are people out here who know your story and walk with you. You are not alone, sister. Trust me. Those that judge are terribly ignorant and have been spared the pain of hunger, humiliation, shame and betrayal. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    No matter what, you keep your head held high. Find your tribe of women and loving, kind souls. Seek out knowledge and expose your children to all of the wonders that are free for the taking. It won’t completely take the sting out of saying no now, but they will be richer or it. These times are very hard for you and I hear the pain behind your words, but you were meant for greater things.

    I am not religious, but I am spiritual and I will send healing white light and energy to surround you and your children, along with my sincerest hope that the three of you will be strengthened by a community of sweet and generous friends and neighbors. That you will find peace and comfort and prosperity soon so that your dreams and goals can be fulfilled with ease. I send you love, light, and the spirit of comradery. I thank you for your grace. I thank you for your unvarnished truth. I thank you for your story and your time.

    With all and only the best coming to you now and always,

    1. Aw, Lesley you are too sweet. Thank you for your kind words and positive affirmations. :) Thank you for taking the time to invest in my story and really “hear” what so many others haven’t. You rock girl :) Your mother seem’s to have done an amazing job, she should be proud :)

  11. My mom went through the exact same thing when I was 13. I was able to start working when I was 14 so I could afford to buy myself new clothes.

    With that being said, throughout the rest of my life, almost everyone else I met who was on some form of government assistance was milking it. I personally know women who have multiple kids so they do not have to work, because the more kids they have the more money they get from the government. I volunteered for a homeless shelter for 2 years, and only 1 out of 100 were interested in changing their situation. Most of them were more then happy to live off the work of other people and not have to worry about anything but the shelter schedules.

    So you have to do what you have to do to survive, but if you are going to live off the work of others, you are going to share that space with those who do abuse it.

      1. Everything you find? I just did a quick google and came up with a bunch of links stating there is waste and abuse in the welfare system.

        I think it’s obvious there is abuse and also obvious that many do not abuse it.

        1. It would help your case if you posted those links. I’m not saying there’s no fraud or abuse, that would be ridiculous. I’m saying that it’s not anything like the majority of recipients, or even a huge percentage, as you implied with your comment.
          99 out of a hundred are happy to be homeless? Most welfare recipients are happy to milk the system and having lots of kids to do it?
          That’s a helluva claim, and I think you’re wrong. That’s quite an assertion, and seems to be based on political lies. I’m asking if you can provide evidence to the contrary. I’ll read through any links you’d like to post.

        2. Yeah, love the Libertarian trolls who come out of the woodwork whenever the issue comes up, as if there isn’t hundreds or thousands of times the abuse and fraud in, oh, say, military contractors or Hallibuton/DynCorp boondoggles or corporate welfare or multinationals paying no taxes. Hell, the Big Dig in Boston had cost overruns of over $10 billion, but find a schoolteacher who takes an extra week of workers’ comp and we’ve got a FoxNews scandal on our hands, right?

          And elbow, if it’s so freakin’ awesome to be poor and receiving some form of public assistance (and surprised you managed to complete the sentence without the word “Mexican” in it), why don’t you, and Ann Romey, and Bill O’Reilley, and the op-ed writers at the WSJ, all quit your jobs and join the gravy train?

    1. Oh. You PERSONALLY. Of course you personally do! And of course we must take your personal anecdotes as truth. Why?

  12. Nobody ever asks themselves “Do I really need this tax deduction?” If you’re able to take advantage of it, you do. I paid for insurance for ten years. Bad stuff happened, I got the money I was eligible for. Those are MY tax dollars. Anybody that wants to pretend their tax money paid for me is welcome to reimburse me every last dollar I paid into the system.

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