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What I Might Say to Your 'Friend on Welfare'

A great post from Joy Pullmann last week asked for opinions on how 17-year-old high school students could respond biblically to one of their friends, “Julia,” who seems to get $800 per month from an entitlement program to spend however she chooses. It is suggested that Julia’s two friends gently talk to her about the way in which she frivolously spends this money, “not to condemn her, but to empower Julia so she sees herself as able to support herself and contribute to the world.” I applaud any young person who takes the time to consider the broader moral implications and sustainability of our entitlement system, but respectfully, I have to disagree that talking to Julia is the right answer. Before these two friends—let’s call them Amanda and Sarah—speak with Julia about how it upsets them that she takes from “the system” and spends this money irresponsibly, I have a few questions to ask of Amanda and Sarah:
  • Are these teenagers working outside the home?
  • Do they regularly tithe part of their own (however meager) wealth?
  • Do their parents ever take deductions or advantage of special credits on their tax returns?
  • Are they or any of their relatives relying upon Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Veteran’s Administration programs, military, federal or state retirement plans?
  • Do these teenagers benefit indirectly from any of the above transfer programs?
As Nick Eberstadt highlighted in “A Nation of Takers,” nearly half of all Americans live in households that are accepting one or more type of transfer payment. It is possible and perhaps probable that Amanda and Sarah’s lives are impacted by wealth transfers, and they are not aware of it. [pullquote]     Nearly half of all Americans live in households that are accepting one or more type of transfer payment.[/pullquote] As an adult listening to the concerns of these young Christians, I would remind them to be careful about “casting stones,” especially when family finances—and delicate family matters such as the reason that Julia receives these payments—may not be known to them, or even to Julia. Some families keep deep secrets between generations, and these friends should avoid inquiring into personal matters that do not concern them. These payments may not even be government assistance; this could be a story that Julia is telling her friends or what Julia is being told by her family. That isn’t to say that these friends are left to stand idly by while Julia squanders $800 a month. Amanda and Sarah can encourage to Julia to join them at church and volunteer activities that encourage Julia to grow closer to Christ, which may help Julia arrive at the conclusion that life can be rich and full without spending money. They also can politely refuse to participate in or enable Julia’s splurges. If Julia is wants to spend Saturday evening eating out with Amanda and Sarah, they could decline but offer to have Sarah come over for a family dinner instead. It may be that Julia decides to continue to spend her money in ways that her friends think are inappropriate or even harmful, but that is Julia’s choice. As young adults, Julia’s friends must learn how to encourage others to live with integrity and draw close to God without passing judgment on matters that they may not fully understand.