The Doctrine & Covenants instructs us, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” (42:42)
Many Mormons interpret this passage to mean assistance should not be extended to needy individuals unless they perform some sort of compensating labor. Exceptions are generally made for the elderly, the ill, the physically handicapped, children, and mothers of small children. In general, American Mormons see no need for government welfare programs, believing that welfare promotes idleness.
According to a study published by the University of Texas, 90% of welfare recipients in the US are single moms. The elderly and disabled are covered under Social Security rather than welfare programs.
Government statistics reveal that 1.7% of Americans receive 50% or more of their income from welfare programs, and 8% receive some type of assistance such as food stamps. If children and single moms make up most of the 9.7% of Americans receiving partial or full welfare benefits—a group most Mormons would agree needs help in providing for their own— who then are the idle?
According to the census bureau, 13.3% of Americans are over 65—most of us drawing Social Security. Many of us are under the illusion that we’ve earned everything we get back. Not true in most cases. The rate at which a retiree receives back all she has paid varies according to her income. Lower earning workers draw out more quickly than higher paid workers. Government estimates are that workers receive all benefits they have paid within a few years. Legal immigrants who have worked in the US and paid Social Security taxes are only eligible for seven years of retirement benefits, so it’s fair to say the government believes most retirees have used up their contributions before that time.
What I’m driving at, is that the idle who eat the bread of the workers pretty much has to include those of us who have been on Social Security longer than a few years. I’m not saying we should send our SS checks back, but I do think those of us receiving more retirement benefits than we earned should take a more charitable attitude to fellow welfare recipients—and maybe we should be less strident about demanding our benefits be preserved no matter what other government spending cuts must be made.