Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA MARSHALL
Fox hosts Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera cited a U.S. census study which found that many poor Americans own appliances to paint entitlement recipients as lazy or unwilling to work. This analysis ignores the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans receiving entitlements are elderly, disabled, or were members of working households.
On the September 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly and Rivera claimed that government benefits are creating a disincentive for work. Rivera concluded that "it's one thing to be poor in India or even Mexico, it's another thing to be poor, according to these statistics, in the United States":
O'Reilly's attempt to demonize poor Americans as lazy, comfortable, or unwilling to work mischaracterizes the vast majority of Americans who receive benefits. According to a 2012 report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 9 out of 10 Americans receiving entitlement benefits were either elderly, seriously disabled, or members of a working household in 2010:
91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled -- and do not live in a working household -- received only 9 percent of the benefits.
Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.
O'Reilly's segment on poverty in American also dismissed a September 3 report which found that income inequality is wider than it has been in almost a century. Rivera acknowledged the report but downplayed its findings, reasoning that government entitlements create a disincentive for the poor to work and "bootstrap themselves."
Contrary to O'Reilly and Rivera's claims, the CBPP also notes that the safety net has become more work-based, as the United States has significantly reduced assistance to the jobless poor and increased assistance to low-income working families. Programs like SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid have done much more to promote work over the last 30 years. For example, the EITC has boosted employment among single mothers and has produced large declines in the number of single mothers receiving welfare.