This is par for the course at Fox News (and at www.foxnews.com)1:
Census figures show more than one-third of Americans receiving welfare benefits
“Newly released Census data reveals nearly 110 million Americans – more than one-third of the country – are receiving government assistance of some kind.
The number counts people receiving what are known as “means-tested” federal benefits, or subsidies based on income. This includes welfare programs ranging from food stamps to subsidized housing to the program most commonly referred to as “welfare,” Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
At the end of 2012, according to the stats, 51.5 million were on food stamps, while 83 million were collecting Medicaid – with some benefitting from multiple programs.” *
On his Special Report, Fox’s Bret Baier introduced the segment thusly:
“Recent figures show us just how many people around you are getting some form of government assistance.”
Got that? “Show us…how many people around you,” meaning that if you’re a Fox News viewer, you’re not getting any help from the government; it’s your lazy neighbors who are. What a neat, clever (if invidious) distinction between hard-working “us” and some no-account “them”. Baier might have said, “Recent figures show just how many of us” etc. But that would have suggested we’re all in this together.
Based on demographic analyses of Fox viewership, the odds are good that if you’re a Fox News viewer you’ve benefitted for years from the mortgage interest tax deduction, and you’re probably collecting Social Security and getting Medicare coverage too. But those programs and benefits, as we all know, don’t count as “welfare”.
As I said, such tendentious reporting is par for the course and only to be expected at Fox. What is both surprising and disappointing is how this story was then picked up and handled by The Week in its “Speed Reads” section2:
More than one third of Americans receive welfare benefits
“Recent census data analyzed by Fox News reveals that nearly 110 million Americans receive "government assistance of some kind."
“These numbers mean that one in three Americans participates in some type of welfare program, ranging from food stamps to subsidized housing to the program most commonly referred to as 'welfare,' Temporary Assistance for Needy Families... Some [benefit] from multiple programs," according to Fox.
“The growing number of Americans receiving federal assistance has caused analysts to speculate whether the programs may be "incentivizing people not to work," since participation in multiple welfare programs "in many cases pays better than going to work." Meanwhile, supporters of the welfare system argue that the solution to this problem is to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.” - - Teresa Mull
I guess Teresa Mull worked so hard cutting and pasting the Fox story that she had no time to question either the figures, the language (“welfare benefits” and “the welfare system”), or the conclusions that Fox reached. Apparently, at The Week, “Speed Reads” means “Stuff we’re too lazy to bother analyzing but are just going to pass along to you without comment”.
Dear The Week Editors and Teresa Mull: If I wanted to read foxnews.com, I’d go to the damn website. I don’t need you to act as a Fox News feed and it doesn’t behoove you to do so.
*51 million Americans is about one-sixth of the population; sadly, that tracks almost exactly our official poverty rate--in other words, yeah, Americans living in poverty get "food stamps". What a shock! What a scandal! As for 83 million receiving Medicaid: other sources show significantly fewer enrollees in the program (62 million as of April 2014), but why quibble? The program serves the poor, the disabled, and the elderly, and it was expanded under Obamacare to cover people with incomes up to 138% of the poverty line. This whole line of reporting by Fox is based on the magical impact of scary big numbers and of not providing adequate context to make sense of them. It's also based on the notion that it's bad for the government to help people who need it, a notion that most Americans (aside from the loyal Fox viewers) do not share.
Count me in, by the way, as a "multiple programs" offender: in addition to collecting Social Security, I also receive $22 a month from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. I use the benefits to line my already luxurious Welfare Hammock with velvet: as George Costanza famously said, "I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable." Just go on welfare and you can do it!