In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 16.2 million children. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression has swelled the numbers of Americans receiving SNAP benefits (commonly referred to as food stamps) to more than 46 million people.
But according to Fox contributor and New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin, the problem that struggling Americans receiving SNAP benefits have isn't really hunger or poverty. It's that they're not ashamed enough about taking the help.
Plugging his latest Post column on this morning's Fox & Friends, Goodwin lamented that the "sense of shame is gone" in receiving government assistance.
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Are too many Americans avoiding work to collect welfare? Well, check this out. Just last year, 45 million Americans received food stamps. That's a 70 percent increase since President Obama took office. So you have to wonder: Are entitlements the new American dream. Joining me now, Michael Goodwin, Fox News contributor and columnist for the New York Post. You know, I almost get a stomach ache saying that because when you think of the American dream, you certainly don't think about handouts, but is that what we're becoming?
GOODWIN: Well, it's interesting. The thing I write about in here is the idea that shame used to be part of this. In other words, people didn't want to accept a handout because they were ashamed to do it. There was a kind of social contract that said you don't do it. You're independent, you're reliant. That was part of the American founding virtue, as Charles Murray calls them.
And yet now we look at them, we see this explosion of entitlements. The sense of shame is gone. So I focus this week on food stamps, which I think is a real cultural issue, because it's now 47 million people in the country are on food stamps.
Goodwin is upset that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed regulations that would prohibit New York City from fingerprinting food stamp applicants. In his Post column, Goodwin calls this opposition to the city's policy part of the "left's war on shame."
But Cuomo and advocates for the hungry say that the city's policy causes some people who are eligible not to apply for assistance because of the stigma associated with fingerprinting. The New York Times quoted Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard as saying, "Poverty and hunger are not crimes."
According to Jennifer March-Joly Further, executive director of the Citizens' Committee for Children, "The finger-imaging requirement has long deterred thousands upon thousands of potentially eligible applicants from applying for food stamps."
Goodwin joins the growing list of Fox News figures who have demonized those who receive food stamps and minimized the struggles of poor Americans. Charles Payne once castigated the poor for not being sufficiently ashamed of their poverty. Stuart Varney dismissed "the image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor," claiming that "many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit." Sean Hannity recently urged people struggling with food insecurity to make pots of beans and rice "for relatively negligible amounts of money," claiming that the "idea Americans are going to bed hungry" isn't true.
Nearly 50 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity. Fox News wants them to pass a shame test before they can get help to buy food.
In a recent report previewing the Economic Policy Institute's upcoming State of Working America analysis, EPI president Lawrence Mishel explained how American workers have been cut out of sharing in economic prosperity during the past 30 years, citing a divergence of pay and productivity as a key driver of growing income inequality in the United States.
Mishel noted that although American workers' productivity has steadily increased, their pay has remained largely stagnant over the past three decades. Mishel explained that "[t]his divergence of pay and productivity has meant that many workers were not benefitting from productivity growth -- the economy could afford higher pay but it was not providing it."
Here's more from Mishel:
A key to understanding this growth of income inequality -- and the disappointing increases in workers' wages and compensation and middle-class incomes -- is understanding the divergence of pay and productivity. Productivity growth has risen substantially over the last few decades but the hourly compensation of the typical worker has seen much more modest growth, especially in the last 10 years or so. The gap between productivity and the compensation growth for the typical worker has been larger in the "lost decade" since the early 2000s than at any point in the post-World War II period. In contrast, productivity and the compensation of the typical worker grew in tandem over the early postwar period until the 1970s.
Productivity growth, which is the growth of the output of goods and services per hour worked, provides the basis for the growth of living standards. However, the experience of the vast majority of workers in recent decades has been that productivity growth actually provides only the potential for rising living standards: Recent history, especially since 2000, has shown that wages and compensation for the typical worker and income growth for the typical family have lagged tremendously behind the nation's fast productivity growth.
Mishel included a chart further illustrating this pay and productivity gap:
From the May 17 edition of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell:
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Not content to shame food stamps recipients and bully them into silence, Fox News is now targeting efforts to raise awareness of poverty and food insecurity.
The latest front in the Fox News war on anti-poverty measures takes aim at chef Mario Batali as he highlights the difficulties of living on food stamps -- problems that are routinely dismissed on Fox while the network pushes for drastic cuts to nutritional aid and other anti-poverty measures. Batali, who sits on the board at the New York City food pantry, is trying to live on a $31 food budget for a week in order to illustrate the struggles families face trying to survive on a food stamp budget, even as the right looks to cut funding for the program:
For one week, the acclaimed chef Mario Batali is challenging Americans to "walk in someone else's shoes" by eating only what they would be able to buy with food stamps.
Batali, the star of ABC's "The Chew," partnered with the New York City Food Bank to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program, which helps feed 46 million Americans.
Discussing Batali's role in the food stamp challenge, Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld asked, "Does this make you want to slap him around?"
Gutfeld's dismissive mocking of Batali's efforts comes amid an exhaustive campaign by Fox to demonize those who receive food stamps while simultaneously minimizing their struggles. Fox's Charles Payne once castigated the poor for not being sufficiently ashamed of their poverty. Fox host Stuart Varney dismissed "the image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor," opining, "many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit."
The campaign of dismissive scorn reached its Marie Antoinette moment when Fox's Sean Hannity urged folks struggling with food insecurity to make large pots of beans and rice "for relatively negligible amounts of money."
Which raises a question: When will Hannity, Varney, and Gutfeld take the food stamp challenge and show how much food they can buy with the richness of spirit and the appropriate helping of shame?
Right-wing media have responded to criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget plan by trying to reframe the plan as not actually calling for spending "cuts," but that it simply limits the rate of an increase in spending. But experts agree that Ryan's plan would indeed reduce funding to programs that assist millions of low- and middle-income Americans; as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has noted, Ryan's plan includes reductions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding that alone would "necessitate ending assistance for millions of low-income families."
Mocking the Obama campaign's "Forward" slogan, Fox News displayed a graphic purporting to show that the economy has worsened under President Obama. But the data in the graphic hide the economic recovery under Obama and ignore the effect of the economic downturn and fiscal policies that started under President Bush.
Right-wing media have seized on comments made this week by Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, suggesting that Fattah "admit[ted]" that Democrats are expecting voters to back them in the fall in exchange for "handouts" and "protect[ing] their government-aid gravy train." These attacks are yet another example of conservative media attempting to gin up outrage over programs designed to help struggling Americans.
During a discussion on the April 24 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation about House Majority Leader John Boehner's recent comment that Democrats have a one-in-three chance of reclaiming the majority, Fattah said in part that "people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training." From PoliticsNation:
FATTAH: President Obama is right, we need to continue to invest. That's why our GDP is up, and that's why we've got 35 months of private sector job growth. We are headed in the right direction. Unemployment continues to drop, and those people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training. The idea that Republicans are trying to help those who are unemployed is nonsense. And I think on this Election Day, those who have a job can credit the administration for stabilizing our economy, and those who don't know that this administration is trying to put them to work.
The Washington Examiner picked up Fattah's comments in an April 25 blog post, claiming that Fattah said that "unemployment could actually encourage people to vote for President Obama in order to secure welfare benefits such as food stamps." The Fox Nation later republished the Examiner post under the headline, "Democrat: Unemployed Will Vote for Obama to Keep Their Welfare":
The conservative blog Gateway Pundit highlighted Fattah's comments and claimed that it's "all about the handouts," while The Blaze claimed that Fattah "openly admit[ted] that some voters are supporting President Obama because he's the most likely to protect their government-aid gravy train." And an April 26 Big Government post added:
In other words, Fattah believes Americans who've been conditioned to live on Democrat handouts will certainly continue to vote for the Democrats. The last thing they'd do is vote for those rascally Republicans who want to rein in spending and encourage people to strive, once more, for some semblance of personal responsibility.
Conservative media have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of "bribing" voters, and this latest round of echoes that theme. But the programs mentioned by Fattah -- the food stamp program, known as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and jobs training programs -- are hardly a "gravy train" that discourages unemployed Americans from "striving" for "some semblance of personal responsibility.
Sean Hannity spent an hour on the radio today continuing to deny the many hardships faced by poor Americans -- including hunger -- by pointing in part to the prevalence of modern appliances and the abundance of cheap foods found on a health website to support his point. At one point he gave this advice to poor households, "Quit drinking soda and drink water."
This was after spending the majority of his time attacking Media Matters and MSNBC for publicizing his original comments on the issue, when he insisted that "this idea that Americans are going to bed hungry" is not true because "you can survive" off such cheap food staples as rice and beans.
Hannity stated that MSNBC and host Ed Schultz were "lazy" for relying on a Media Matters item that highlighted Hannity's comments to debunk his claim that millions of Americans aren't going to bed hungry.
Fellow conservative talk radio host Mark Levin also called in to defend Hannity from criticism by similarly attacking Schultz. Levin stated: "First of all, Mr. Ed, that you call Ed Schultz, that guy looks like he eats for about three and a half people, doesn't he?" Hannity replied: "Now, be nice. It doesn't look like he missed a meal, I'll say that."
On his MSNBC show, Schultz criticized Hannity for his comments, calling him "the most out of touch man in America." Indeed, as Schultz noted in his segment, millions of families and children in the United States suffer from food insecurity. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on food insecurity in America released in September 2011 found that "in 2010, 17.2 million households in America had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources." The report also stated:
Food insecurity rates were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the current federal poverty line ($22,350 for a family of four), households with children headed by single women or single men, and black and Hispanic households.
But Hannity ignored the facts by claiming that cheap food is readily available. He then illustrated his point by reading a list of cheap foods and their cost per serving from WebMD, a website that provides health information:
From the April 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the April 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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New evidence that food stamps help to drastically reduce poverty has been largely ignored by the media, even as the right pursues a campaign to bully those who face food insecurity into silence and help conservatives slash funding for successful antipoverty measures.
In a report released April 9, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that food stamps "reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009." That year, USDA researchers concluded, food stamps reduced the depth of child poverty by 20.9 percent.
As MSNBC's Al Sharpton explained, "facts matter" in the debate over anti-poverty programs. But a Media Matters analysis shows that major broadcast news outlets completely ignored the study, even as Republicans demonize food stamps and push to slash funding for the program.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the Republican budget plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney would cut funding for food stamps by $134 billion over 10 years. As the USDA estimates show, those cuts could have a significant impact on poverty rates.
Fox hosts attacked President Obama for his opposition to Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Small Business Tax Cut Act, claiming the bill would give "the middle class a tax break" and "creates thousands of jobs." In fact, Obama has threatened to veto Cantor's bill specifically because it does not target the middle class; as experts have said, Cantor's bill would disproportionately benefit the wealthy and create few to no new jobs.
From the April 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox Business host Stuart Varney, also known as Fox's "very clearly partisan" economic analyst, has two major platforms: anything benefitting the rich is good; anything benefitting the poor is bad. Not only does he rail against programs intended to alleviate poverty, he often criticizes the poor themselves, once even going so far as to claim that what poor people really "lack is the richness of spirit." On yesterday's Fox & Friends, Varney used his regular segment, titled, "Who's Ruining The Economy?" to again attack the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a program designed to raise low-income, working families out of poverty:
VARNEY: OK. You work, you don't pay much in tax, if anything. You don't earn much money. But bingo, you get into this program, and you will get a check from the government early in the year. It's a refund of the tax that you didn't pay in the first place -- 26,800,000 people got those checks last year, averaging $2,240 each. The government shelled out a total of $59-and-a-half-billion to those 26 million people last year. It's free money. Literally pennies from heaven. And now you have the government saying, hey, you may qualify. Come on in. We got a check for you.
Later in the segment, Varney repeated a claim he made previously about the EITC -- that it is "one of the most corrupt systems there is." As evidence, he claimed that poor people, like those "drug dealing," could game the system by not declaring the money they make in their income tax.
But, of course, the program doesn't benefit drug dealers; it benefits low-income, working Americans.