Why so many people support the social safety net
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The people who responded to the Marketplace-Edison Research Poll come from across the country. But I managed to find one in my neck of the woods.
Dominick Guzzi owns a hair salon in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington. That’s where I met him.
Guzzi gives a mean haircut. Or used to — until he fell off a ladder about two years ago and broke his ankle in three places. He’s still a big, solidly built guy. But now he can’t stand for very long.
“I got a plate and 11 screws in there — two plates I think,” Guzzi said. “After 15, 20 minutes, my ankle gets weak and gives.”
Guzzi is relying on workers’ compensation right now. He’s not cutting hair, but managing his shop and about a dozen employees. He’s 73 and on Medicare.
Guzzi has always been independent. But, since his accident, it’s been a struggle to keep his shop afloat. It hasn’t come to this, but Guzzi said he would ask friends for money if he really needed to.
“Yes, I would go any place that would help me,” he said. “Including the government, sure.”
Our survey asked if the federal government should provide things like college tuition assistance, subsidies for health care benefits and help with mortgage payments.
Guzzi’s response? A quick yes.
“It’s just — you’ve got to take care of your health. People eat, and you gotta make sure they have a roof over their head.”
And Guzzi is in the majority. About 88 percent of our respondents said the government should provide unemployment and job training. Eighty-three percent support food stamps. There are strong majorities in favor of the other government programs, although support for mortgage assistance is lower.
“I’m not surprised that there is a lot of support for these kinds of programs,” said Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research. “I was surprised at the breadth of that support — that it really cut across pretty much every subgroup we looked at.”
Married or single. Rich or poor. Democrat or Republican.
Molly Scott, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said support for the government’s social safety net has increased because of the recession.
“During the recession, a lot of folks who think of themselves as traditionally more middle class found themselves underwater on their homes or losing their jobs,” she said.
They found themselves needing things like unemployment. But there is a caveat here, Scott said. Our poll just asked people if the government should provide a social safety net. If you ask them if the government is spending the right amount of money on these programs, Scott said the broad support frays.
“People tend to support things if they don’t necessarily have to directly pay for them,” she said. “Whenever the question of cost comes in, it’s a more complicated question for folks.”
It certainly is for Dominick Guzzi. Back in the beauty shop, he told me he wants more checks and balances on safety net programs.
“We’re spending too much money on all those programs because it’s not being supervised,” he said. “It’s being wasted. There’s too much abuse. Too much waste.”
But Guzzi also realizes he may need the social safety net someday. And despite the waste and abuse he talks about, he hopes it’ll be there if he needs it.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Dominick Guzzi’s first name. The text has been corrected.
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