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

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
What's Next
Trending Today
Dakota Access Pipeline Permit Denied
Nika Knight · 12,052 views today · 'For the first time in Native American history, they heard our voices.'
How Romanticism Ruined Love
5 min · 6,056 views today · The set of ideas we can call Romanticism is responsible for making our relationships extremely difficult. We shouldn’t give up on love; we should just recognize that it’s more...
All the News Is Fake!
3 min · 5,438 views today · Jonathan Pie finds nothing new in the idea of fake news.
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 3,579 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 2,748 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 2,499 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...
Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited 'Fake News' Blacklist?
Adam Johnson · 1,951 views today · The Washington Post (11/24/16) last week published a front-page blockbuster that quickly went viral: Russia-promoted “fake news” had infiltrated the newsfeeds of 213 million...
Lifting the Veil:  Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy (2011)
114 min · 1,664 views today · This film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the "graveyard of social movements", the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,600 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...
United Natures: a United Nations of all Species (2013)
103 min · 1,457 views today · United Natures explores the Rights of Mother Earth, Environmental Philosophy, Wisdom, Spirituality and the potential for a Neo-indigenous future for humanity. Directed and...
Post-Brexit Visions of The Possible: It's Time to Imagine a New European Community
Martin Winiecki · 1,437 views today · We live in the beginning phase of a global revolution which will turn societal conditions upside down. We cannot stop this transformation, but we can influence where it will...
After Historic Protests, Army Corps of Engineers Blocks Current Route of the Dakota Access Pipeline
3 min · 1,401 views today · The $4 billion dollar project could still be approved by President-elect Donald Trump who is heavily invested in the pipeline. Help support The Real News by making a donation...
The Fight for Clean Water (#NoDAPL)
2 min · 1,024 views today · Clean water or Corporate profits? What’s more important? #NoDAPL Energy Transfer Partners: (214) 981-0700 U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers: (202) 761-0010; (202)...
The Orwellian War on Skepticism
Robert Parry · 985 views today · Official Washington’s rush into an Orwellian future is well underway as political and media bigwigs move to silence Internet voices of independence and dissent, reports Robert...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 979 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Projext X: Using Leaked Documents to Reveal the NSA's New York Spy Hub, Hidden in Plain Sight
10 min · 908 views today · A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 769 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
Where Do You Draw the Line? (2016)
60 min · 765 views today · Why is the Ecuadorian government proposing to extract oil in an area frequently classified by ecologists as one of the most bio-diverse rainforest regions left intact on earth?...
Twelve Things To Remember After The US Election, From Front Line Organizers
Bill Quigley · 667 views today · When you find yourself in a suddenly darkened room, what do you do?   Some rush blindly to where they think the door might be.  Others stand still, let their eyes get...
Bikini Was Just the Beginning, Bombs Still Threaten the Islanders
John Pilger · 654 views today · I was recently in the Marshall Islands, which lie in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia and south of Hawaii. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Ignoring the Cause of Welfare: Not Laziness but Low Wages