Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Very Definition of Entitlement

Remember when I said nothing had moved me to write in a while? Problem solved! I'm in a rage right now. So much so that I need to just blog it out. My panties are in quite the bunch.

When many people think of "entitlement" they think of this buzzword "entitlement programs" that is floating around in regards to budget cuts. They think of poor people accessing government programs.

I want to offer you a real life example of entitlement, which much more fits in with this lovely Wikipedia definition (as Wikipedia is the source of all good information, naturally):

"In a casual sense, the term "entitlement" refers to a notion or belief that one (or oneself) is deserving of some particular reward or benefit."

A youth serving organization I am familiar with runs a summer camp. This summer camp, as a nonprofit, has scholarships available for people who really, really need them. LIMITED scholarships that their development department works hard to fundraise for. The typical family who applies for these scholarships has an annual income of $5-15,000 per person annually.

But wait! That's not all! The "full price" cost of camp is very, very, very low. In fact, it works out to be approximately $2.50 per hour of care--and this care is not babysitting. It utilizes intensive, detailed curriculum on truly life enriching topics led by qualified staff people. The true cost of the camp for the organization is actually about $12.50 an hour per child.

Ok, you with me? We're talking about an extremely affordable camp. But as we know, if you are grossing $10,000 per person in your household a year, you don't have $100 a week for a summer camp. So this is where those scholarships come in.

By now I'm sure you're wondering, "Where is this definition of entitlement of which you speak?" Don't worry, I'm getting to it...

Recently, there was a request to be considered for a scholarship from a family that grosses $135,000.

Let's take a look at that---this is about $115,000 MORE a year than the average single mom, single child family who requests a scholarship. This family makes a little over $11,000 a month, which is more than the other families are existing on per person each year.

I just...I don't even...I can't...

This is what I think of when I hear the word "entitlement." This is thinking you are deserving of a special benefit. Requesting help with basics (food, healthcare, child care) when you cannot afford them is not entitlement. Requesting help with basics when you EASILY can afford them IS entitlement. This example here stems from a total lack of perspective.

In case my description of the typical scholarship recipient didn't give enough perspective on this situation, let me contribute some more:

  • The salary of the average full time, highly qualified youth development worker at an organization like this makes about $100,000-$105,000 LESS a year than this family.
  • The pay rate for the seasonal and part time staff (who hold bachelors degrees and have extensive youth work experience) is $12-14 an hour. This family makes in the range of $66 an hour.
  • The federal poverty limit for a family of EIGHT is $37,620. In order to be considered "impoverished" by the federal government, a family making $135,000 a year would need to consist of 33 members.
  • Their annual income is roughly the cost needed to run the entire summer camp.

No. NO. NO. NO.

You don't get to ask for help when you make this kind of money. I'm sorry--I don't know the particular circumstances of their lives, but trust me, I can say that they haven't faced some catastrophe and they don't have 33 people who are supported by them. If they can't pay $100 a week for a full time summer camp, then they need to do some serious budgeting. They do NOT need a scholarship. They do not need any financial assistance, they just need financial planning. The people in this income bracket should be giving back, not taking.



  1. Can I ask about the verbiage surrounding the scholarship application? I'm only wondering because there are a whole lot of instances in society where scholarship really means "reward for being awesome." If there's no distinction between "needs-based" and "merit-based" scholarship, I don't think you can bang on the applicant family too hard for applying.

    There's also a difference, I think, between applying and, say, calling to give you a hard time when they're denied (which they totally should be). There could also be a whole host of situations unique to this family where this scholarship might actually be something they need.

    I agree with your general idea, that this is clearly not the family who the scholarship was designed for. I don't think it's the most egregious case of entitlement, though.

  2. It is VERY clearly written to be "needs based" and explains that it is focused on income criteria and emphasizes in multiples places that money is limited and given to the families who need it the most. They also explain that everyone's camp fees are 80% subsidized by fundraising already. Trust me, there's almost no way that this family couldn't have known that they were being ridiculous with this request.

    There's also a section where they can explain why they've applied and sort of "tell their story." Often this paragraph is where the scholarship committee has some wiggle room. You made $40k in 2010, but you're laid off now? Cool. However this family's "story" was basically this: "We need it."

    I've never seen anything this bad, but I did see a family who made 80k, had no "story" and then got very angry/indignant when they weren't granted the scholarship.

    I get your perspective on it, but I see it as an asshole move to even apply. Honestly. I think it's a horrible move to try to ask for assistance when you are in the top 5% of earners in this country. I can't get over it. I make so much less than them and I wouldn't have for a second considered applying.

  3. You know, honestly, the more I think about it, the madder I get. This is in no way a merit based scholarship application or even a skills based camp...I find it highly offensive that someone w/ an income in the top 5% would try to access low income services.


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