NYT Economic Columnist Debunks The Myth That Welfare Corrupts The Poor And Should Be Reformed

Fox News Has Spent Years Promoting Myths Aimed At Eliminating Anti-Poverty Relief Programs

New York Times economic columnist Eduardo Porter discredited widespread myths about the supposed corrupting influence that government assistance has on low-income Americans and the unsubstantiated claim that cutting assistance to the poor will actually help families in need.

NYT's Eduardo Porter Explains That Welfare Assistance Doesn't Disincentivize Work Or Encourage Wastefulness

Porter Debunks Myth That Welfare “Will Just Encourage Bad Behavior.” On October 20, New York Times economic columnist Eduardo Porter debunked the persistent myth that government anti-poverty relief programs, commonly referred to as “welfare,” encourage laziness and waste among low-income Americans, and that cutting assistance to the poor actually reduces poverty. Porter noted that so-called “welfare reform” in the 1990s, which supporters claimed would reduce poverty, had little effect on poverty rates in the United States. He also pointed to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the World Bank that found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work” and that cash assistance is “not typically squandered” by recipients. Porter concluded that attempts to “reform” welfare programs were driven by myths and stereotypes, and caused low-income Americans to be worse off during the 2008-2009 recession than in previous economic downturns:

Few ideas are so deeply ingrained in the American popular imagination as the belief that government aid for poor people will just encourage bad behavior.

The proposition is particularly cherished on the conservative end of the spectrum, articulated with verve by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, who blamed welfare for everything from higher youth unemployment to increases in “illegitimacy.”


Today, almost 20 years after Mr. Clinton signed a law that stopped the federal entitlement to cash assistance for low-income families with children, the argument has solidified into a core tenet influencing social policy not only in the United States but also around the world.

And yet, to a significant degree, it is wrong. Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider's web of dependency” -- also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink -- is not the cure-all for social ills its supporters claim.


When the Great Recession struck, many of the poorest Americans found there was no safety net for them. “Extreme poverty was more affected by the shock to the labor market than in prior experience,” said Professor Hoynes at Berkeley.

Why is this debate still relevant today? The evidence has not caught up with the popular belief that welfare reform was a huge success. [The New York Times, 10/20/15]

Porter: Republican Anti-Poverty Strategy Allows “Assistance To Wither While Poverty Survives.” In an October 27 column for The New York Times, Porter highlighted the systematic failures evident in replacing “the poor's entitlement to aid from the federal government” with “a fixed block grant to the state,” an idea widely embraced by Republican politicians and presidential candidates. After examining the outcomes of delegating federal anti-poverty relief funds to state block grants, Porter argued that states rarely use all of their allotted assistance funds on poverty relief and that block grants have “essentially made [welfare] irrelevant to the lives of the poor.” Porter concluded that attempting to fight poverty through state block grants “allows the assistance to wither while poverty survives”:

Nonetheless, the block grant approach has emerged as the central plank of the Republican strategy to confront America's intractable poverty. The party's main presidential candidates have woven poverty and inequality into their campaign speeches. Nearly all of them are expected to show up in January at the Republican poverty summit meeting in Columbia, S.C., organized by Mr. [Paul] Ryan [(R-WI)], who has laid out detailed plans to overhaul what remains of the American social safety net.


On average, states use only about a half of their funds under the TANF program to fund its core objectives: Provide the poor with cash aid or child care, or help connect them to jobs.

Ending the poor's entitlement to government aid is counted as a success because it has reduced the rolls of people on welfare. But that is not the same as helping the poor get a job, overcome dependency and climb out of poverty. Welfare was essentially made irrelevant to the lives of the poor. It is meager yet increasingly difficult to get.


In 2012, one out of five households receiving food stamps reported no other source of income. Millions more scrape by on modest assistance and low-paying jobs. But by making the poor almost exclusively the responsibility of the states, our national politicians can claim the problem has been solved.

This is what's most worrying about the block grant strategy to address the bane of poverty: It allows the assistance to wither while poverty survives. [The New York Times, 10/27/15]

Fox News Perpetuates The Myth That Welfare Corrupts The Poor, And Has Demanded More Stigma Be Attached To Recipients

Fox's Doocy Wondered “What's The Matter” With Illegally Publishing Identities Of Welfare Recipients. On the September 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy agreed with guest Seton Motley that governments should do more to shame “the people who are sitting on welfare.” The two discussed a call by Republican Mayor Robert Macdonald of Lewiston, Maine's to pass a bill creating a website to list the name of everyone in the state who receives public assistance, their home address, and the length of time they have been receiving assistance:

SETON MOTLEY: [G]overnment does a terrible job of tracking how they spend our money. If we publish the welfare recipients we'll track it. We know there's widespread welfare abuse. Government doesn't seem to care to do anything about reigning it in. If the American taxpayers, who are paying the freight, know who is getting welfare they can keep a better eye on who is abusing the system et cetera and perhaps we can do some real serious welfare reform.

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): Okay, Rebecca, the key to what he just said were the people who are abusing the system. There are some people, you know, we all know abuse the system, they go on it for years. But there are others, you know, who run into a tough spot and they might have to go on public assistance for a while. What's the matter with putting the list out there of the people who are winding up with money out of the taxpayers' pocket? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/28/15]

Fox News Claimed Low-Wage Workers Would Prefer To Stay On Welfare. On the July 22 editions of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Happening Now, and Special Report, correspondent Dan Springer claimed without evidence that Seattle is facing the “unintended consequences” of increasing its minimum wage. The worst of these consequences, he claimed, was that some employees “make too much money to stay on certain welfare programs” and are requesting fewer hours.

[Media Matters, 7/23/15]

Fox News Claimed Fast Food Workers Forego Higher Salaries To Keep Receiving “Free Stuff From The Government.” On the June 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy invited Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, to argue that low-income workers in his restaurants might be wary of higher paying jobs if the salary increase results in a loss of government benefits:

ANDY PUZDER: The policy guys call it the “Welfare Cliff,” because you get to a point where if you make a few more dollars, you actually lose thousands of dollars in benefits. And, quite honestly, these benefits are essential for some people. They are how they pay their rent; they are how they feed their kids. So, what happens is, we have people who turn down promotions or, if minimum wage goes up, they want fewer hours. They want less hours because they are afraid they'll go over that cliff.


STEVE DOOCY (HOST): And, it's got to drive you nuts, because you're always looking for good people to run your stores. And, if they would just take the next step, take the next step up the ladder, next thing you know they could be a manager making $80,000, but they don't want to lose the free stuff from the government. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/24/15]

Fox News Ignored Dangerous Consequences Of Arizona GOP's Welfare Restrictions. On the May 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy failed to mention that Republican-led efforts to limit welfare usage in Arizona would cut assistance to 2,700 children and likely increase long-term social services costs for taxpayers. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/20/15]

Fox & Friends Used A Dishonest Chart To Overstate Welfare Participation By 500 Percent. On the October 28, 2013 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, a graphic was shown on screen that purported to compare the number of people who received means-tested federal benefits to the number of people with full-time jobs in 2011. The chart depicted the 108.6 million people in a household with someone receiving a form of government assistance as approximately five times greater than the 101.7 million people with full-time employment:

Misleading Chart On Welfare Participation [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/28/13]

Fox Wondered If Children Should Work For School Meals. On the April 25, 2013 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked viewers if school children should be forced to work in exchange for free school meals, after a Republican lawmaker in West Virginia proposed such a requirement for a new law intended to ensure that no student went hungry. [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 4/25/13]

Fox's Charles Payne: There's Not Enough “Stigma” Directed At Food Stamp Recipients. During the March 28, 2013 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Charles Payne alleged that federal benefit programs trap people in poverty and complained that there wasn't enough “stigma” directed at poor Americans for using food assistance programs:

CHARLES PAYNE: There is never a push to get people off food stamps. Of course, the only time it happened was under Bill Clinton when we had that massive welfare reform, and I thought it worked brilliantly... I know there's a big thing trying to de-stigmatize food stamps, but the good part about the stigma is it actually does serve as an impetus to get people off of it. You know, I'll be quite honest with you, when I was growing up there was a point when we had food stamps and people in our building did, but if I was in the store buying something and my friend who lived upstairs one flight from me came in, there's no way in the world I would let him see me using food stamps. They're trying to take that stigma away. They're telling more people they should use it. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/28/13]

Fox Personalities Repeatedly Hyped Mythical “Obama Phones” As Poor People's Incentive To Vote For Obama. Prior to President Obama's 2012 re-election, Fox News repeatedly hyped a video of “an Obama supporter touting her 'Obama phone'” to disparage recipients of federal programs. Frequent Fox guest and then-National Review writer Mark Steyn claimed on the November 8, 2012 edition of Fox & Friends that “the 'Takers' were able to out-vote the 'Makers'” and that the American Dream was being thwarted by Democrats who “bribe people with the Obama phones.” Steyn was repeating claims made by Fox News host Sean Hannity, who falsely claimed on the October 2, 2012 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show that voters supported Obama in order to receive an “Obama phone.” Yet “Obama phones” never existed -- the federal program offering subsidized phone service (Lifeline) has existed since 1985 and was expanded to include cell phones under President George W. Bush. Fox's obsession with the “Obama phones” myth has persisted for so long that the network was actually cited as a source of divisiveness by President Obama in his May 12 remarks at Georgetown University. When the Federal Communications Commission announced it was modernizing the Lifeline program just weeks later, Fox Business' Charles Payne attacked the reforms as “further enslavement of the poor” and appeared on the May 29 edition of Fox & Friends to lament the program's supposedly “runaway costs.” [FoxNews.com, 9/29/12; Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show,10/2/12; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/8/12; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/29/15]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: I'd “Look Fabulous” If I Lived On Food Stamps. In November 2012, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros dismissed the plight of food insecure Americans and claimed that she would “look fabulous” if she were forced to try to subsist on a food stamp budget of just $133 per month for an extended period of time, the amount that SNAP participants in New Jersey received at that time. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/21/12]

Fox's Payne: After Thanksgiving, People “Take Their Welfare Checks And Bum Rush” Wal-Mart. In October 2011, Fox Business' Charles Payne claimed that one could understand why people were poor in America by going to Wal-Mart after Thanksgiving and watching people subsisting on welfare benefits “bum rush” the store. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/3/11]

Fox's Stuart Varney: Many Poor Americans “Have Things -- What They Lack Is The Richness Of Spirit.” In August 2011, Fox Business host Varney defended himself from criticism by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart by claiming he was simply “telling the truth about poor people,” before asserting that “many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co. at Night, 8/25/11]