A Favor or a Handout, There is a Difference

Helping Those in Need

Over the years as I’ve been surrounded by individuals that seek to help others, and I’m often amazed at how many of them graciously give when a need arises. Whether it’s building a fence, helping fix a car, or providing monetary assistance when a family comes across hard times, I see generous people everywhere I look.

Looking for a handout image

For me personally, I’ve always had a hard time accepting favors. I’m not sure if it’s pride or ego-driven, but the truth is that I’m comfortable paying somebody in exchange for their services. Saying that, I’m not ignorant enough to believe that I wouldn’t be more open to these blessings in the event that a NEED arises.

What really drove me to write this post though was thinking more about our world, the increase in government assistance programs, and the subsequent abuse of those programs. I’ve had the privilege to meet A LOT of people over the years, from all different walks of life; what I can’t seem to figure out is how some people will ask for the occasional favor whereas some never have a problem holding out their hand.

“Walking Through a Pile of Shit”

A few weeks back I met with a lower-middle class family and the impression those guys left with me will last for years to come. The husband talked about how hard times were for his family when they grew up back in the 50s, and he’d go on to tell me that he loved to work and would do whatever was necessary to make sure his family’s bills were paid.

This gentleman had owned a business for the past 15 years and was a self-proclaimed “jack of all trades.” His business didn’t have a sole function, he was the only employee, and he definitely didn’t make a lot of money. He’d do house repairs, concrete work, and when the economy started to go south in 2008 he started to resell items. From flashlights to antique items, he’s made a living reselling stuff that other people would gladly throw away. The thing I kept thinking was the adage: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and in this instance, it certainly proved to be true.

In my meeting with the family we went on to talk about the entitlement that’s so commonly discussed when referring to the younger generation of Americans, and he told me stories about his daughter and how she really had no grasp on how difficult it truly is to make a decent living in this country. After a bit of ranting about unemployment and the lazy people that lived next to him in his apartment complex, he talked about how he’s done everything necessary to avoid taking handouts from the government and how he has worked hard to provide for his family on his own.

At the end of the meeting he summed it up well: he said, “Jason, I’d walk through a pile of shit every day as long as it meant I could take care of my family.”

Always Looking for a Handout

While I couldn’t get over that man’s good-ole’-boy Kentucky upbringing, it did make me wonder why some people are willing to do what’s necessary to support themselves whereas others are fine taking whatever form of assistance they can get their hands on.

I personally know people or have met people that:

  • Get food stamps and still somehow eat nicer meals than my wife and I.
  • Have food stamps and use their cash to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.
  • Take unemployment for as long as possible while working side-jobs for cash so the government won’t find out.
  • Get paid workman’s comp just because they don’t want to work and figure sitting at home collecting a paycheck is better than actually working.

While I’m sure many people know individuals or families that look for as many handouts as possible, I’m always SHOCKED when I read other RIDICULOUS stories like the panhandlers that make $60,000/year sitting on a street corner collecting donations. Or the lady that won $1,000,000 in the lottery but continued to collect unemployment benefits.

Or maybe you’ve even read about the Seattle lady that lives in a $1,000,000 home but is on Welfare?

Understanding that I don’t know the people from the stories, it’s wrong for me to sit here and judge them. However, it doesn’t stop me from wondering ‘how in the world can people justify doing these things?’ How can they justify taking hard-earned money from the tax payers (people like you and me), receive as many handouts as possible, while there are others out there like my good ole’ Kentucky boy that’s willing to walk through a pile of dung to make sure his family’s bills are covered?

Helping or Hurting?

There will be moments in our lives where we need friends, family, and possibly the government to help us. Whether it’s a job loss, a disability, being underemployed, or losing the family’s income earner, there are people out there that definitely need help and lending them a hand shouldn’t be something you have to think twice about.

But, how far is going too far?

Is it possible to give somebody too much? Is it possible to show them that they don’t really have to work hard and can rely on assistance instead of busting their tails to make ends-meet like so many of us have to?

Ultimately it comes down to your character: how you were raised, where your morals lie, and what you feel you’re “owed.” There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it, but there is a fine line between asking for a favor and consistently looking for a handout.

Do you know people that abuse government programs or the generosity of others? Why do you think those people are so willing to hold out their hand and are there solutions to prevent people from taking advantage of the systems intended to help people that are truly in need?

About the Author

By , on Aug 24, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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  1. This is a touchy subject but I think you tackled it well. While I know a few people like you mentioned (I live in a poor province, in a rural area), and these people bother me, mostly I just focus on worrying about myself and making sure that I earn my place in our society, and that my family and I don’t place too much of a burden on society. If I lost my job I would go on unemployment until I found a new one, and when I have kids I’m going to take advantage of the available social programs, but I also make sure I pay my share of taxes and whatnot, to justify taking these services when I need them.

    Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like that, but there’s not much I can do about them.

    • Andy says:


      I think it’s a great way to view things but I’m not sure we can all just sit by and do nothing. Obviously things have gotten worse over the years and more people continue to take advantage of the systems. The government obviously doesn’t care as they’ll just tax the people more…so somebody has to care.

  2. Shilpan says:

    I’ve been in business for long time now, so I can tell you about so many experience of abuse. I can still remember a gentleman one day walked in to my hotel office and asked for an interview for a sales position.

    I was impressed with his resume, so I spent an hour talking to him. At the end what he said was a total shocker.

    He said, “I appreciate your time. Can you please reject me and sign this paper?” As I looked at the paper, I couldn’t believe that it was from the unemployment office. I not only refused to sign, but also promptly reported that incident to the local unemployment office.

  3. Michelle says:

    What a thought-provoking post! I know there probably are a lot of people who take advantage of the generosity of others, but that has never swayed me from wanting to be generous myself. The way I try to look at it is this; I am being a good person by giving to charities. If they choose to be immoral or less-than-honest about their needs, that is not my place to judge them. I can’t police anyone or know their true intentions; all I can do is try to be a good person, but also try not to be taken advantage of. For example, I never give to people that sit at intersections because I feel like if I were in a rough financial place, I would try my best to work for the money, not just put my hand out and hope that others would just give me their hard-earned money. (I really hope that isn’t offensive to anyone, but it is how I feel.) However, if it is a charity or a sick child or a family struggling to buy Christmas presents who says they are in need, I will often give without questions asked. I feel like it is not my place to judge them, and I just hope that they’re being honest about their needs.

    Phew…heavy stuff today, Andy!

    • Andy says:

      You make some great points, Michelle! We also give and many times we’re not sure how the recipient will use the money/gifts they’ve been given. I’m all for being generous and certainly don’t want to imply that you should know everybody about a person (and how they spend the rest of their money) before helping them. Although, in a government situation with ongoing contribution…I think I’d like to see that.

      I didn’t mean to be “heavy.” It’s really just a question I’ve pondered many of times. It’s so interesting how there can be completely different people/mindsets all living within miles/feet of each other.

  4. Unfortunately, I do know people who take advantage of the system. Whether the system is broken or not, I try and help these people get on a budget and out from under government dependence. I think many of the people truly do believe they can never get ahead and need these programs to survive. A lot of times, it just takes some motivation after being beaten down so hard by a job loss, medical bills, etc.. I would gladly take unemployment providing I am actively looking and pursuing a job or jobs. I paid into it, so I don’t mind using it to keep food on the table.

    I really don’t like the idea of enabling people, but I am always reminded that the Bible talks about giving to the poor, and doesn’t put any stipulations on it. I do avoid panhandlers most of the time, but will give if I can when the opportunity arises.

    • Andy says:

      Jake, you have a great heart my friend and I’m glad you posted this response. I do also believe that people develop the ehor mentality that Dave Ramsey refers to and begin to believe they can’t change their lives. I think there is a BIG difference between being content and settling though.

  5. Andy,

    Thank you for sharing this post. I have to admit that I used to have a very liberal view of how we should handle entitlement programs in this country. I thought that we could make the world a better place by giving everybody a helping hand. Over the past few years, I have done a complete 180. While I think that the original intent of the programs was wonderful – that being it was meant as a helping hand in a time of need – what the programs have turned into has become an ever increasing cycle of dependence. Several things have really changed my views on this and here are a few:

    1)The lady that spent $350 to go on a girls weekend with my wife who proceeded to brag about how her kids could get full-ride scholarships to any university in the state through a government program aimed at helping low income kids go to college. I guess if I didn’t work quite as hard, I wouldn’t have to save for my kids college or saddle them with loans.

    2) My wife’s acquaintance who is on “disability” along with her husband. Their disability is all caused by being 250 pounds overweight. However, they get “free” healtcare through Medicaid and they bring their kids to the doctor at least once a week…for things like eating carpet lint. Seriously. Of course, it doesn’t matter to them how often they go because a) they don’t have anything else to do and b) they don’t pay for it. On the other hand, I make enough money that I have to buy a high deductible health plan. So, every time I think about going to the doctor, I have to decide whether or not I want to pay the $125 office visit. Furthermore, they drive nicer cars than I do, have premium cable tv, have a 4-wheeler, all have cell phones with data plans, etc. I’m just not sure that somebody who is so “poor” that they can’t afford to pay their own way should be allowed to have those sorts of things. Essentially, tax payers are subsidizing their lifestyle – a lifestyle that I don’t even live because I’m trying to save money.

    Through the years, I’ve also found at work and other places that the more that you give people, the more they expect…and they are generally less happy when they receive it. There is certainly a segment of people who definitely need the help. For others, it has become a lifestyle – a lifestyle that they teach their children and their children’s children. Unfortunately, I think that the system is broken and it needs to be fixed ASAP.

  6. Kudos for posting what many of us think everyday.Shout out for good old KY folks! I have seen both sides. I ran a low income eye clinic out of my private office for about a year and a half. It was my attempt of paying back some of the good fortune I’ve had. Someday I’ll write a longer post about it but to summarize: At first it was great, we really were getting people who were trying but having a hard time affording vision care for themselves. I had a single mom tell me when I offered her free glasses” I am already on 3 assistance programs, I’d rather pay for them myself.” I had another lady who ended up needing an eye surgery she couldn’t afford. Her large family sold tamales in front of WalMart for months to raise that money. That’s who needs the help. But by the end of the program, all the” shiftless layabouts” started coming in, not necessarily because they needed anything, but because they heard we were doing free exams for low income. Just because you choose to sit on your ass all day and smoke cigarettes, that doesn’t make you low income. I’m talking young men in their 20’s with nothing wrong with them. They are always hiring at convenience stores, Taco Bell, and at the nursing homes. If you’re trying and not making it, I will support you all day long. If you spend most of you day looking for ways to get stuff free and not work, that is just plain wrong and highlights our broken system.

  7. Nick says:

    I’m with you, Andy. I am on the “walk through $hit” mentality to the core, so when I hear of the other side of the coin my brain starts collapsing on itself trying to reconcile the two mentalities. I just don’t get it. I couldn’t imagine living my life like that.

    One thing about the occupy wall street and the “we oppressed folks can’t do better because you rich folks are keeping us down” movement that went largely unrecognized is that the movement turned into a multi-national platform. So the irony was that once the “oppressed” kicked the “woe is me” attitude and decided to organize something they believed in, they rose up. And if you agree or disagree with the movement, it’s undeniable that they created something amazing from nothing, just because they decided to try something new.

    If they applied the same thing to career and business many of them could get out of the cycle.

    My two cents. But I’m a bit extreme on the “personal responsibility” side of things..

  8. Unfortunately, I think that a certainly mentality can be taught to people. I remember when I was pregnant with my first daughter and an acquantaince recommended that I try to get on WIC (a program in my state providing free formula and food for pregnant mothers and mothers with newborns). Anways, I was completely shocked because a) Even if I wasn’t married, I make too much money indicidually to ever qualify for such help, and b) I wouldn’t have even had kids if I could not afford them myself.

    It would never cross my mind to see what I could “qualify for” because that isn’t the mentality that I was taught. My parents always lived within their means and that is what they taught me as well.

    I don’t mind giving a hand up once in a while but I do not think it should be so readily or easily available.

  9. Eddie says:

    Hi Andy!
    Solid post.
    Its a tough call on whether to help one out or we entitle them when we do.
    I admit I turn a blind eye on the welfare systems etc, mostly because even though its my tax dollars that are probably misused, its those who issue the checks (BIG G) who cheats me and my tax dollars as well through lavish travel expenses, bonuses etc etc. I have to pay my taxes, one way or the other, and if someone is misusing my dollars for their bonuses or the poor guy “faking” the need, I can’t do much to stop it.

  10. I think the system itself is broken. When I was on unemployment due to a layoff I could have had a part time job, but I would have been making less than I was on unemployment. So I didn’t take the job and just took the assistance until a FT gig came along. I think there should be incentives to WORKING instead of NOT WORKING.

    Great post-I think you put it very tactfully and raised a lot of questions.

    • Kerry says:

      Ooh, this reminds me of a great point an economist colleague once made. They pointed out that when benefits/welfare pay better than employment, that’s actually a sign of the job economy working. The reason is:

      1. Benefits are set at what’s considered a living wage: at a reasonable, low income. (Most places, I believe they’re benchmarked to minimum wage with inflation taken into account.)

      2. If a job is paying less than that, the job is by definition *not* paying a living wage.

      3. If the employer must adjust their pay up to attract candidates, that’s actually a good thing – it means more disposable income, economic growth, and salaries and pay in line with the true value of the work.

      So the missing link in that situation is employers paying a living wage…something I hope we can all agree is a necessary thing!

  11. Kerry says:

    I don’t know the stats in the US, but in the UK the percentage of people who defraud benefits is extremely tiny. The percentage of people who need benefits and don’t receive them, or who are entitled to them and don’t claim them, on the other hand, is much larger.

    I think it can be harmful to focus on benefit/welfare fraud over efficiency because it perpetuates the stereotype that most, or even many, people receiving assistance are somehow ‘pulling one over’ on the state or the taxpayer. That in turn leads to laws being passed that further harm people in need – which in the case of disability assistance, for example, could happen to any of us at any time.

    I don’t know if you’ve encountered John Scalzi’s excellent essay on “Being Poor” – whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/ – but I think it’s a great illustration of how far away we (ie you and I, people who are wealthy enough in both money and time to blog and comment on the internet) are from people who are truly in need.

    • Andy says:

      I don’t know the stats either and I’m not even sure I’d believe or trust them if they were out there somewhere. I think truly finding out who is using the assistance wisely and not abusing it would take quite a bit of work.

      I will disagree with your 2nd paragraph about not focusing on the fraud because then I think you’re relying on sinful and greedy people to do what’s right. As time has passed over the years I don’t think there is any argument that as a whole we’re getting more lazy than ever. Any studies and understanding of socialism clearly reveals that the more assistance that is given the less motivated people become to do things on their own and stand above the crowd.

      I’m definitely with you on the last point you made though. I’ve traveled to 3rd world countries and I do realize how large the disconnect is between the “wealthy” (which is nearly everybody in the US) and those other places. It’s going back to the point I mentioned in my response to Veronica, it’s our perception and mentality that has changed and our belief of what we should have as Americans. A car, house, cable TV, cell phones, a flat screen TV, retirement, and a nice job are standards and expected. Whereas 3rd world countries and inner cities are happy to have food, shelter, and water.

      • Kerry says:

        “I don’t know the stats either and I’m not even sure I’d believe or trust them if they were out there somewhere.”

        That kind of sounds like you’ve made up your mind already and don’t care about finding out the facts! I’d rather look at the data (from as many sources as possible) and try to form evidence based opinions.

        • Andy says:

          Well, Kerry, I’m not really here to argue with you. The point of my post was to delve into WHY some people are willing to do whatever is necessary to support themselves and their family, and on the other hand, why some just don’t care and are more than willing to get assistance wherever they can find it.

          I appreciate your comments!

          • Kerry says:

            Oh, absolutely! I think it’s just that as a copy editor by trade I can’t seem to let facts go un-checked or inaccuracies un-corrected. 🙂

            I think my question to continue the discussion would be: Why is “get[ting] assistance wherever they can find it” not seen as “do[ing] whatever is necessary to support themselves and their family”? If they’re getting assistance, they’re helping support their family by definition…so why are they considered two different things?

            Is there ‘good assistance’ and ‘bad assistance’? ‘Right support’ and ‘wrong support’ If so, how can you tell the difference?

          • Andy says:

            Kerry, those are some decent questions…

            I guess it goes back to the part I discussed regarding what you feel your owed in life: from other people and from the government. If somebody is able, then there is no reason they should sit on their butt all day and collect handouts when they’re (1) doing nothing to better their lives, (2) looking diligently for a job, or (3) willing to walk through a pile of dung to support their families on their own accord. If that’s the case and they’re “providing for their family” by getting assistance as opposed to doing something with their life, then in my opinion that’s “bad assistance” and “wrong support.”

            If somebody however doesn’t have the means necessary (education, skills, is disabled, etc) to provide for their family, then getting assistance isn’t a bad thing and that’s ultimately why the programs are there. However, the problem with the handout programs, and the premise of my entire article is this: if the reason this hypothetical person is getting assistance is because they’re unable to earn a livable wage, then are you enabling them by giving continual support? Would it be better served if there was a way to help that person improve their skills/knowledge and therefore give them the ability to become self-sustaining. As the old saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

            I do appreciate you trying to keep the conversation going, but my intent wasn’t to get in a political, moral, or ethical debate. I’m not saying any assistance is really wrong as it’s intended for good. However, people are wrong, greedy, lazy, and that is ultimately where the problem lies…and the problem the future of our country faces.

  12. It’s not about a handout for most people. Quality of living really was better in the past years. In fact, studies show that quality of life hasn’t improved AT ALL in the last 30 or some years. Costs are going up, incomes are staying the same. Families are no longer the family units they used to be. Some want you to believe that women working as much as mean is a great “equal opportunity” but for those who feed on our debt this is actually just another stream of income.

    Politicians create false arguments that result in more of the same. We KNOW what the issues are and they’ve been argued time and again. The whole concept of getting a new president that will make any changes is a facade of all sorts. Poor people (60% of america) are desperate for assistance, yet when the govt. tries to help they call it a handout. It has never been a handout, it’s our money in the form of taxes.

    • Andy says:

      Veronica, these are some interesting insights but I’d have to disagree a little bit with the “quality” of living. It’s our mentality and materialistic mindset that has changed our views on our quality of living. Furthermore, the onset technology has really hindered people’s budgets and their ability to live a comfortable/quality life. With internet bills, cable television, cell phones, and the acceptance of driving long distances for employment, we are spending far more money than people 50 years ago ever had to deal with.

      Saying that, that’s all our choice. We don’t HAVE to have any of those things that I listed about. However we choose to because we relate those luxuries with a quality life. Our perception is what has changed and that is ultimately our biggest problem.

      I also think you misunderstood the point I was trying to make about the “handout” part of my post. I have no issue with the poor getting assistance. I believe in helping the poor. But I don’t believe in people abusing the system.

  13. AverageJoe says:

    Great comments by Thad and TB. I’d add that I’ve met few people who are against cutting entitlement programs. Most people are for it. However, in the political arena, it’s often coupled with education cuts, which I don’t understand. I think a winning formula for a politician would be to cut entitlement programs and then use a portion of the money toward education. Instead of telling the guy on the floor that you’re cutting his program AND his way to figure it out, let him know that if he wants to, there are more ways than ever to become educated about getting ahead. Great post, Andy.

    • Andy says:

      I wouldn’t say I’m totally for cutting entitlement programs, I just wish there was more oversight when it comes to people getting handouts. There are certainly people that will need assistance. There just aren’t enough high-paying jobs to go around to allow every person in the country to not need assistance. Furthermore, when you get into disabilities and things of that nature, then I’m all for helping people when they can’t support themselves. The issue isn’t those people or those programs, the issues comes with the people that don’t want to support themselves.

      I agree with the education stuff. I do think our school systems are broken and we teach many things that don’t help kids become prepared for the world today, but there is NO REASON we should cut education. We’re already WAYYYYYYYYYYY behind most developed, 1st-world countries in our academic ratings.

      • Kerry says:

        Interestingly, helping alleviate poverty is a major way of bringing up education effectiveness. For example, kids who are well fed do better in school than kids who are skipping eating two days a week, and maybe have just one meal on other days, because their parents can’t afford it. Kids who have paper and pencils at home to practice their homework do better than kids who only have those things in the classroom. Education and poverty are very highly intertwined, so cutting aid to the poor while increasing education spending isn’t going to do anything.

  14. Yeah I dont know what to say about this. Andrea (SoOverThis) had a great post awhile back about not judging people who are on welfare but have Prada bags or whatever, because there’s a lot of things you don’t know about their situation. That being said, it’s hard to see people “working the system” because when it comes down to it, that’s MY tax money they’re cheating with. THat’s MY money that they’re using to be lazy and greedy. Makes me angry. But I try to not be judgey or think about it, because what can I do? I can only take care of my family and do what I need to do to get by. That guy you spoke with sounds like a stand-up dude. Wish more peopel were like him.

    • Andy says:

      TB, I do also wish people were more like him. I also don’t want to sit here and judge somebody but I do think this topic needs to be discussed and addressed. The reason being is that I think the handout mentality is becoming more popular than it’s ever been, especially with the younger generations. If you sit back and think about it, it’s pretty amazing to see what we’ve become as people and how our country has changed over the last 20-30 years. We’re lazy, unmotivated, overweight, and lack discipline. How have we become what we are today?

  15. This is a powerful post Andy.

    I think for many people there is simply no understanding of the value of their life or other people’s money. They sort the world by what they can get away with (a misunderstanding of their life) and how much of other people’s money they can spend (i.e. being able bodied, but unwilling to work in favor of taking a handout).

    The problem is that there is no pixie dust that makes money just appear. Government has no source of money other than what they collect (usually with the power of the state) from tax payers.

    When almost half of the nation pays nothing in terms of income taxes, we are dangerously close to a point of no return. There is nothing fair about a tax system that requires some to pay nothing at all.

    • Andy says:

      Great thoughts, Thad. Thanks for your great contribution. I agree with you and I’ll eventually get around to a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time: “Collapse or Socialism: There’s Only Two Options for America.”

      The reality is that we do have a socialist society in the terms of redistributing wealth but nobody wants to call it that. It truly NUTS to think that 50% of the country really contributes nothing and only receives benefits in return.

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