Ignoring the Cause of Welfare: Not Laziness but Low Wages
By Ben Norton / fair.org
Sep 17, 2015

Numerous US media outlets recently uncritically echoed a methodologically flawed report by an anti-immigration organization with ties to white supremacist groups (FAIR.org9/4/15). Beyond this serious problem, however, lies a larger and more endemic issue in media: an overarching anti-welfare framing.

CNBC claims immigrants are "freeloaders," conflating welfare with "freeloading"News articles like those on a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report, which claims 51 percent of US households headed by immigrants receive some kind of welfare benefits, internalize anti-government assistance values, implicitly assuming that receiving welfare is a bad thing.

The impression many Americans hold is that people are on welfare because they are lazy. Corporate media often propagate this myth, failing to acknowledge scientific studies that show that most people on welfare live in working households, and that immigrants on welfare pay 4,500 percent more in taxes than they receive in government assistance.

 

“Are Immigrants Really Freeloaders? New Study Backs Trump’s Attacks,” CNBC asks (9/3/15). “A new study issued Wednesday by a group that favors tighter controls on immigration concludes that immigrants may be freeloaders after all,” it claims. But the CIS report, as flawed as it may be, does not say immigrants are freeloaders; it says they are welfare recipients.

Why do media use the terms “welfare recipient” and “freeloader” synonymously?

It is coverage like this that leads to disjointed letters to the editor in local publications like AZCentral (9/3/15), averring, “Maybe if the unemployment and the welfare offices told them they have a job and if they don’t take it they will be cut off, they may go to work or starve.”

Citing the debunked report, an Investor’s Business Daily editorial (8/28/15), headlined “US Taxpayers Bear Weight of Anchor Babies,” argues that “anchor babies” should be called “welfare babies” and reads:

CIS found that the presence of a worker in the immigrant home does not make much difference in terms of welfare use. The stereotype of hardworking Hispanic illegals “is simply mistaken.” Even if they work, they tend to go on welfare.

Welfare for immigrants, it claims, is “a massive burden on taxpaying US citizens,” and “illegals who receive it pay little or no income tax to help defray those costs.”

All of this is demonstrably false. And Investor’s Business Daily, like much of the media, is clearly not interested in fact-checking unsubstantiated anti-immigrant myths.

In their reports on the flawed CIS study, USA TodayAOL NewsFox News,CNBC and more did not mention that scholarly studies have found that people on welfare frequently work—sometimes at several jobs. Research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley shows that 73 percent of Americans who receive welfare are members of working families.

“It’s poor-paying jobs, not unemployment, that strains the welfare system,” explained an economics reporter for the Wall Street Journal (4/13/15). “In some industries, about half the workforce relies on welfare,” he adds, including 52 percent of fast-food workers.

The Washington Post (4/14/15) addressed this common misconception as well:

We assume, at our most skeptical, that poor people need help above all because they haven’t tried to help themselves — they haven’t bothered to find work.

The reality, though, is that a tremendous share of people who rely on government programs designed for the poor in fact work — they just don’t make enough at it to cover their basic living expenses.

Far from being freeloaders, “immigrants don’t drain welfare; they fund it,” theNew Republic (9/3/15) wrote. Studies by the American Immigration Council found that immigrants spend 45 times more in taxes than they receive in public benefits and work more than non-immigrants. And a 2013 US Chamber of Commerce report, the New Republic pointed out, found that “more than half of undocumented immigrants have federal and state income, Social Security and Medicare taxes automatically deducted from their paychecks.”

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan think tank, estimates there were 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the US as of 2012. Together, they paid almost $12 billion in taxes.

ITEP reports undocumented immigrants pay a higher percent in taxes than the richest 1% of Americans

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports that undocumented immigrants pay a higher percent in taxes than the richest 1 percent of Americans.

ITEP found that undocumented immigrants pay 8 percent of their income in taxes. To put things in perspective, the richest 1 percent of Americans pay only 5.4 percent of their income in taxes. In other words, contrary to anti-immigrant myths often propagated by the media, undocumented immigrants—the supposed “job-takers”—pay more in taxes than the richest Americans—the supposed “job-creators.”

Even if the CIS study were true—and, as the aforementioned methodological criticisms indicate, it likely is not—a high number of immigrants on welfare should be seen as an indictment of corporations that exploit immigrants, not of immigrants or of welfare. Immigrant workers often do not have good job opportunities available to them. And undocumented immigrants in particular are frequently forced to work arduous and often dangerous jobs. Because they fear deportation or discrimination, they are pressured into taking jobs in which their legal rights as workers are violated.

Times are hard, economically, not just for immigrants—although immigrants are particularly hard hit—but rather for the vast majority of Americans. US corporate media rarely mention that the inflation-adjusted wages of the bottom 70 percent of American workers either remained stagnant or decreased from 2003 to 2013. Academic research shows it is low wages, not laziness, that cost US taxpayers $152.8 billion each year in public support for working families.

Workers are paid mere pennies by enormous corporations who make millions in profits, but the media often frame the issue as a problem of welfare, not one of exploitation.

If the goal is to get people off of welfare, raising wages, and strengthening and enforcing labor laws so workers exploited by corporations can actually make a living, are the most effective ways to do so. Until then, welfare effectively serves as a subsidy for corporations, allowing them to pay low, unlivable wages with confidence that government will make up for the rest.


Ben Norton is a freelance journalist and writer. His website can be found at BenNorton.com and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

0.0 ·
0
Trending Today
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 18,533 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 13,979 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 6,519 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 4,478 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 3,894 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
#ReclaimMLK Seeks to Combat the Sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy
Danielle C. Belton · 2,598 views today · Martin Luther King Jr. had more than “a dream,” but you might not notice that on Monday during observances for his birthday. Somewhere between his assassination and today...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 2,477 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 2,027 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 1,255 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 1,067 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,018 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: A Guide to Gracefully Losing Faith in a Collapsing Dominant Culture
Jim Tull · 370 views today · I recall a Buddhist parable involving a stick that appears from a distance to be a snake, causing fear to rise in the perceiver. As the perception shifts upon closer...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 365 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism
Drew Serres · 360 views today · “The creation of today’s market society was not the result of a sequence of spontaneous events but rather of state interference and violence.” – Naomi Klein in The Shock...
22 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works
Tim Hjersted · 345 views today · And 6 that show how people are responding.
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 336 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 335 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 316 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 296 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 261 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Ignoring the Cause of Welfare: Not Laziness but Low Wages