Newest Fox Attack On Safety Net: Assistance Keeps Americans In Poverty

Fox Business commentator Charles Payne criticized programs providing food and other assistance to low-income families, bizarrely claiming the social safety net keeps people mired in poverty despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In an America's Newsroom segment, guest host Alisyn Camerota said that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2008 and asked Payne, her guest, “Is this all just a by-product of this slow recovery?”

Payne agreed that the slow recovery is “a large part” of the cause, but went on to claim that food stamps, as well as other public benefits, actually prevent poor and middle-class Americans from improving their economic status:

PAYNE: For instance, if you're making, in California, $44,000 a year and your boss offers you a raise to 50,000, you would probably say, “No thanks. Cause I don't want to lose out on things like food stamp benefits, local benefits, my child care tax credit, my earned income tax credit.”

In other words, you know, we're a very generous society.  But what we've actually ended up doing is creating a wall, a giant barrier for people to move out of poverty into the middle class because that initial transition, they actually lose money and lose benefits.

Payne is wrong (even setting aside the fact that a Californian family earning $44,000 would almost never qualify for food stamps). Social safety net programs are not “a giant barrier” for people seeking to escape poverty: they keep millions of Americans out of poverty every year.

A graph on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' (CBPP) blog shows just how many Americans were kept out of poverty by these programs in 2011:


CBPP previously noted that the poverty rate in 2010 would have been twice as high without a social safety net. And a 2012 CBPP report noted that “safety net assistance” can help “low-wage workers move up the income ladder.”

Those kept in poverty are less, not more, likely to be upwardly mobile. A 2012 New York Times article about declining income mobility in the U.S. noted that one reason that “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe” may be “the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind.” The article later said that the “causes of America's mobility problem are a topic of dispute” and went on to note, “The United States maintains a thinner safety net than other rich countries, leaving more children vulnerable to debilitating hardships.”