If you are one of the followers of the widely discredited Fox “News” Network, you’ve probably heard the latest distortion of fact.
For those who don’t follow this particular propaganda outlet, the latest exercise in myth making goes like this:
“Welfare spending per day per household in poverty is $168, which is higher than the $137 median income per day. When broken down per hour, welfare spending per hour per household in poverty is $30.60, which is higher than the $25.03 median income per hour.”
During the Five segment, Fox aired a graphic claiming federal expenditures for welfare totaled $1.03 trillion, while it was $731 billion for Social Security, and $700 billion for defense.
During the segment, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle cited the study's findings as proof that the country has become the "United States of Dependency." She went on to say that the Obama administration "never met a dependent that they didn't like or didn't want to vote from," adding that "this isn't like helping Americans to strengthen themselves and build their families and to be able to provide, it's creating a weakness and dependency."
Writing for AlterNet, Joshua Holland exposes the genesis of this latest canard as well as the fundamental mathematical absurdity underlying it.
The first problem with this claim is mathematical rather than ideological. The story is that we spend $168 per day for each family in poverty. But the eligibility cut-offs for most of the 80 or so programs identified by Senate Republicans are higher than the poverty line; in many cases, significantly higher.
Given that there are around 600 different eligibility requirements for these programs, most determined by the states, it's difficult to calculate an average without a staff. But in Colorado, which I chose because it tends to be ideologically middle-of-the-road, the average eligibility cut-off for the 10 means-tested federal benefits listed here is $18,075, or 62 percent above the federal poverty line.
The myth can be expressed mathematically like this: Total Spending On “Welfare”/Families in poverty = $168 per day. But these services benefit many more people than those struggling under the poverty line – one may as well divide those costs by the total number of rabbits or blue cars in the U.S.
The reality, expressed mathematically, is: Total Spending On “Welfare”/Those who receive benefits = $24.77 per day. That's a lot less than $168.
Other problems with this latest “the takers are robbing the makers” meme are:
· Some of These Programs Aren't Means-Tested and Some Benefits Go to People Who Aren't Poor
The story is not merely a fundamental distortion of fact. It is a typical exercise in word choice meant to energize the biases of Fox’s and the right’s base.
Fifty years of political science tells us that Americans hold a very favorable view of most programs that help the poor, especially educational and job training programs which, in theory at least, help them lift themselves out of poverty. But there is one exception: Americans don't like “welfare.”
In his classic book, Why Americans Hate Welfare, sociologist Martin Gilens found that significant majorities of Americans told pollsters that they wanted to increase public spending to fight poverty at the same time that majorities said they were opposed to welfare. Gilens concluded that this disconnect was driven by a widespread belief that “most welfare recipients don't really need it,” and by racial animus – “perceptions that welfare recipients are undeserving and blacks are lazy.”
A great deal of conservative economic views are shaped by myths. Think about the fact-free narrative that slashing tax rates for the wealthy will result in more revenues coming into the government's coffers, the common claim that half of the country pays no taxes, or the idea that increasing domestic oil production can lower global oil prices enough to bring down the price of a gallon of gas here at home.
So it will be with the idea that the federal government spends a trillion on “welfare.”
In the end we have another gap between what is “true” in the conservative media bubble and the objective facts. In the real world, we spend about $25 per day on the needy. But, according to Fox News, the figure is $168.