The myth that people who receive public assistance, commonly known as welfare, are somehow living the good life while the rest of us honest folk sweat and toil for a living has been around at least since 1976. Ronald Reagan told stories about a Chicago “welfare queen” who drove a cadillac and raked in $150,000 per year on “welfare.”
Reagan, then running for the Republican presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford, also liked to spin yarns about, as he called them, “strapping young bucks” who used their food stamps to buy “T-bone steaks.”
Reagan (pictured) never gave any specifics that would allow independent researchers and journalists to check the truth of his campaign trail tales. Indeed, no one was ever able to find the welfare queen or the "strapping" steak-eaters.
But the belief that somehow living in poverty bad enough to require welfare is actually a cushy life enjoyed by the lazy and undeserving has long outlived Reagan himself. It lived on in last year's presidential campaign, when Republican Mitt Romney desscribed supporters of President Barack Obama as people who simply want "free stuff you don't have to pay for."
The latest example is a study by the conservative Cato Institute, released in August, that found welfare benefits in 35 states supposedly play more than the minimum wage and in 13 states pay more than the equivalent of $15 per hour.
“The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work,” the study’s authors state. One might think that if this were indeed true, the proper conclusion would be to raise the minimum wage, since apparently (according to Cato), it leaves people who work even more impoverished than those who don’t.
The Cato study, authored by institute Senior Fellow Michael D. Tanner with research assistant Charles Hughes, goes in a different direction. The solution offered in Tanner’s “white paper” is to make people even more poor.
“Consider strengthening welfare work requirements, removing exemptions, and narrowing the definition of work,” the study recommends. “Moreover, states should consider ways to shrink the gap between the value of welfare and work by reducing current benefit levels and tightening eligibility requirements.”
In fact, the study itself is flawed. In calculating the value of “welfare” versus work, the study assumes that a “typical” family on welfare receives all seven of the common safety net benefits. In fact, most do not and many do not even qualify for every public assistance program -- and those who rarely receive every benefit because state budgets simply don’t have enough money.
The study also does not take into account the large numbers of people who work but who still make so little that they also qualify for welfare.
SOURCES: The New American, The Cato Institute, Los Angeles Times, North Carolina Policy Watch, Arkansas Times, Washington Post