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Liberals Go Back
in Time

The Snipe-O-Meter Returns!


Posted Friday, August 13, 1999

        The Snipe-O-meter has been called in to handle a particularly annoying paragraph in the 8/16 Time magazine's lead story on welfare reform. Time's article notes that welfare rolls have fallen almost 50%, and then speculates that those who remain on the rolls form "an entrenched group of welfare recipients who show no sign of heading anywhere near the work force." Author Adam Cohen sets up a somewhat ersatz debate between liberals, who are said to want "greater investment in job training, substance-abuse counseling and other programs to help [recipients] overcome their various obstacles," and conservatives who say those still on welfare are "underachievers at best and shirkers at worst."

        Soon Time has settled into the familiar 'conservatives say/liberals say' rhythm of contemporary journalism. The conservatives are ever so slightly ahead on points when you get to the inevitable "balance" paragraph. Time's text appears in boldface, followed by context and perspective from the staff:

        "Liberals point out that the system is not creating the right incentives. Most jobs taken by former welfare recipients, according to the National Governors' Association, pay less than $7 an hour, not enough to bring a three-person family above poverty." ...
Did welfare reformers think most welfare recipients would get enough in wages alone to bring their families out of poverty? No. Most welfare recipients were expected to qualify for low-wage jobs and then supplement their earnings by claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which uses the tax system to subsidize low-income workers. The EITC has been around since 1975, but was given a substantial hike by President Clinton in 1993 in a bold bid to solve just this problem (to "make work pay"). Today, the federal government spends more on the EITC (about $27 billion) than it does on welfare. A worker making $6 an hour (or about $12,000 a year) can claim an EITC of about $3,800, for a total of $15,800. That's more than enough to bring a family of three above the poverty line (which is about $13,100). On top of this, the $6/hour worker remains eligible for about $1,400 in food stamps.

        "Often welfare recipients who get jobs make less in salary and benefits than they received on welfare." ...
How often is "often"? In a state with average welfare and food stamp benefits of a little over $700/month, even a minimum wage worker putting in 35 hours a week makes more in "salary and benefits." More important, she doesn't have to live on "salary and benefits" alone. Time again conveniently ignores the EITC (good for more than $300 a month). Plus this ex-recipient still qualifies for food stamps of about $150 a month. Even in high benefit states (e.g., California gives over $800 in welfare/food stamps) anyone with two kids who takes a full-time job --or even a half-time job at $6.50 an hour -- winds up with more income.

        "Staying on welfare in that case is not poor motivation -- it's common sense." ...
Both liberals and conservatives used to make this argument -- "Of course people stay on welfare, it pays more than low-wage work." They don't make it much anymore, because it isn't really true. You see, there's now this thing called the EITC ... Have I mentioned it? ...Time must have accidentally reprinted this sentence from a 1970s issue.

        "Wendell Primus, director of income security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the answer is to use tax credits for low-paid workers to tilt the balance in favor of work." ...
Hey, now there's a great idea. Why didn't someone think of it before? We could call it... the Earned Income Tax Credit! You morons, it already exists! What Wendell Primus is talking about is boosting the existing tax subsidy even higher, perhaps at the state level. That may be a good incremental change, but it's not the pathbreaking "answer" Time implies it is.

        The Fraud of Iowa, Part One

        Will Tina Fire Lucinda?

        The architects of the paradigm-shattering business model want shorter postings, and more frequent postings. "Think New Republic 'Notebook' item," they helpfully suggest. Over the next few weeks, you may or may not notice this change occurring.

Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.

Fool's Gould: Will the Left Stop Buying It?

posted 07.25.99