There are many other government programs that provide help to people. The Social Security program remains the largest. It is financed by a tax paid by all working people. Virtually everyone who works in the United States has seven percent (in 1990) of his or her wages deducted to support the Social Security program. This money is used in several ways:
When people reach retirement age – they must be at least 62 – they can stop working and receive a monthly Social Security payment. (Most Americans do not retire until after age 65, however, when the payment is slightly higher.)
When a worker becomes disabled and cannot work, he or she is usually eligible for Social Security payments. Social Security payments are also available to widows and young children of workers who die before retirement age.
Older Americans (over age 65) are also eligible for medical and hospital care under a federal government program called Medicare. Although this program does not pay all medical expenses, it does help a great deal. On average, it pays about 74 percent of the money needed for hospital care and about 55 percent of the money needed to pay doctors’ fees.
There are a number of other ways in which the federal or state governments help people:
Unemployment Insurance: Each state provides money to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. The unemployed worker can receive weekly payments for up to six months while he/she looks for a new job. The states also have agencies which retrain workers or help them find new jobs, using information about available work provided by private companies.
Veteran’s Benefits: Persons who have served in the armed forces can receive inexpensive or cost-free hospital care at special veteran’s hospitals.
Education: Public schools are located in all states. All children – even children who are not American citizens – must be given a completely free education at these schools. Higher education at a college or university is not free. Young people who qualify (because their family’s income is low) can get loans or grants through government programs. Loans must be repaid when the student begins working after graduation.
Business: There are certain government agencies which help people to run businesses.
Job Training: Government programs help young people from poor families learn a skill that will get them a good job.
VOLUNTARISM AND PHILANTHROPY
American private charities and voluntary organizations are supported by businesses and wealthy individuals and their organizations. Three of many major organizations funded by industrialists – the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Rockfeller Foundation – have provided tens of millions of dollars to programs of teacher education, biomedical research and social science research.
On a smaller scale, 55 percent of all American adults do some form of volunteer work and each American, on average, also donates 1.8 percent of his income of charity.
DEBATE OVER WELFARE
Some people believe that increased direct expenditure by the federal government is the best means to eliminate poverty. Others say the welfare system does not reward individual initiative – it encourages people to stay unemployed and spend, rather than save money.
All of the studies and the arguments about poverty and public welfare programs show that Americans are concerned about a problem that has not been solved.