Have Americans learned to become helpless?

headlines-copyDay after day we hear about the negativity that comes out of Washington from Politicians to Strategists, it is constantly negative with a rhetoric that begs the question; is success beyond your control? Have we as a society learned to become helpless? It is a term that I would like to call psychologically learned political helplessness, but before we answer these questions, we must first look at what psychologists define as “learned helplessness”.

According to Doctor Martin Seligman, “The cause of learned helplessness is being repeatedly exposed to an uncontrollable event, in which, after many repeated failed attempts to overcome the event, your brain learns that success is beyond your control, that you cannot affect the outcome”. Thus, “once conditioned to this belief, the individual gives up hope and effort, even when later exposed to an event where control is possible”. Welfare further gives credence to this belief and in essence, one becomes solely dependent on the government, in-turn driving home the point that one cannot succeed or overcome issues without government assistance that they cannot control.

This isn’t an attack on the poor or welfare, I know first hand that we all sometimes need help when our lives take a turn for the worse. My attack is on the big overall picture that effects everyone on a daily basis, its an attack on the politics of it all with regards to the onslaught of Washington that negatively effects us. It is the rhetoric of telling citizens how to live their lives while at the same time preaching policies and news that repeatedly informs us of events that are uncontrollable.

To elaborate this, one need only read news headlines everyday. Whether you view Right, Left, or Center sources of news, more often than not the headlines will depict negativity at the opposition or stories of events that are seemingly out of our control. A tax, a new policy, climate change, health insurance, the debt, police brutality, the NSA, etc. All of these things erode the moral of each and every one of us, creating a sense of dependance that breeds the concept of psychologically learned political helplessness.

The statistics are shocking when you look at the nation as a whole. A new study by Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes of Cato Institute named The Work vs. Welfare Trade-Off: 2013, affirms that “welfare pays more than minimum-wage work in 35 states”. Once again, this isn’t an attack on welfare as I stated before, all I’m providing is the premise of how learned helplessness is reaffirmed by statistics. The study further states, “The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work”. Meaning, according to Forbes.com, “in these 35 states, its a better deal not to work-and instead, to take advantage of federal welfare programs-than to take a minimum wage job”.












Taken with data released in 2011 by the United States Census Bureau on recipients of government benefits, we can see the shocking growth of the concept of helplessness evolve at an unprecedented rate. According to United States Census Data,“there were 108,592,000 people in the U.S. who were recipients of one or more government benefit programs. Meanwhile, there were only 101,716,000 people who worked full time”. Remember, this study was taken in the 4th quarter of 2011, meaning the current data will be higher than the 2011 results.

What it all means is that more and more people rely on Government benefits as employment drops and welfare rises, we are left in debt plus a growing idea with a disincentive to work. So, as disincentive grows, debt rises, and unemployment reaches staggering numbers, I am left to question; do we as an American people believe success is out of our own control? The statistics allude to this, but more importantly, the politics confirm it and Obamacare is the lead catalyst.


You don’t have to look far to see this happening before our eyes. As The Christian Science Monitor states, ” Businesses cut full-time workers to meet Obamacare employee mandate with franchises making the biggest cuts”. The employeer mandate forces businesses to sponsor health insurance (or pay a penalty) if they have more than 50 full-time employees. The law states that, “The definition of full-time worker is one serving 30 or more hours a week”. So, to avoid paying for employees insurance, businesses are currently cutting employees hours to 30 or below and thus re-defining, due to Obamacare, what a full-time employee is.

The phenomenon that we are seeing today is the repeated exposure to an uncontrollable event (Obamacare being the catalyst), that is out of our control, and therefore negatively aligns with the notion that one cannot affect their own outcome for the way they see best. This isn’t to say we are all doomed to fail and to succeed isn’t possible, what it boils down to is that to succeed in today’s America has become much more difficult, but it is not yet impossible.