On the June 11 nationally syndicated broadcast of The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that poor people in the United States are “irresponsible and lazy” ; “didn't make any money” during the 1990s; and “will never make any money because ... you can't compete ... if you are addicted and ill-educated.” In fact, poor Americans did make economic gains in the 1990s.
Discussing former President Ronald Reagan's handling of “racial politics,” O'Reilly made clear that he believes all people in poverty are “irresponsible and lazy” and explained that laziness, drug addiction, and lack of education are the only causes of poverty:
O'REILLY: Reagan was not a confrontational guy, didn't like confrontation, much rather be your pal ... doesn't want to get involved with the really nasty stuff, the tough stuff, and that's what racial politics is -- nasty and tough. ... It's hard to do it because you gotta look people in the eye and tell 'em they're irresponsible and lazy. And who's gonna wanna do that? Because that's what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period. I mean I know people from Haiti, from the Ukraine from eh, -- we got callers all day long on The Factor. From Romania. You come here, you get educated, you work hard, you'll make a buck. You get addicted, you don't know anything, you'll be poor. But Reagan did not want to confront the issue. And that's the truth about it.
Earlier in the program, O'Reilly offered his interpretation of Reagan's economic philosophy:
O'REILLY: Reagan said, “No [to government entitlements]. Self-reliance. We will create an atmosphere and an economy where you will have more money because we'll cut taxes and this and that. And you can make it. You can do it.” And that exploded during the Clinton years, with all the R&D that companies invested in the 80s you had the technological revolution where a lot of people made a lot of money. But not the poor people who are ill-educated or addicted. They didn't make any money because they never will make any money because you can't compete in that circumstance. You cannot compete if you are addicted and ill-educated. All right.
The truth is that poor people did “make money” during Bill Clinton's presidency -- after losing ground during the Reagan administration. An Economic Policy Institute analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's wage data shows that average real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) wages for the poorest 10 percent of workers declined from $6.42 per hour in 1981 to $5.74 per hour in 1988. By contrast, the same group's real wages increased from $5.91 in 1993 to $6.48 in 2000 (although wages actually decreased slightly from 1993 to 1995, before increasing rapidly between 1996 and 2000).