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O'Reilly misleads with 'more welfare than work' statement

November 4, 2013 - Jim Anderson
In his column in Monday’s (Nov. 4) Daily News, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“According to the Census Bureau, more people in America today are on welfare than have full-time jobs.”

A few days ago, Politifact took a look at a similar statement by radio talk show host Charlie Sykes and rated it false.

In a nutshell, here are the problems with O’Reilly’s claim:

The Census Bureau report is based on households, not individuals. If one person in the household is receiving any type of means-tested aid, all of the people in the household are counted in the “welfare” total.

Full-time workers, on the other hand, are counted as individuals.

Thus, Politifact concludes, it’s possible for full-time workers to be counted both as workers and welfare recipients.

Also, the “welfare” total includes recipients who are children. Thus, a household in which the only aid received is free or reduced-price lunches would be considered a “welfare” household, with every member included in the welfare total.

Imagine a three-child, two-parent household with one parent working full-time and the other part-time. The only aid that they receive is reduced-price school lunches. Under O’Reilly’s interpretation, the family looks like this: five welfare recipients, one worker.

Also, O’Reilly’s “welfare” total includes elderly people who receive any type of means-tested aid, such as housing assistance or Medicaid. (Perhaps O’Reilly could hire some of these seniors full-time to inspect his talking points.)

“The number of (‘welfare’) recipients (in the Census Bureau report) includes millions of children under the age of 16 and the elderly,” Politifact notes. “The Census Bureau tally folds in the school lunch program. In the spring of this year, 29 million students benefited from that. About a third of the residents of public housing are over 62. By most standards, we don’t expect these people to work. To compare them to the number of full-time workers might be useful policy information but to fail to note that children and the elderly, not to mention the blind and disabled, are folded into the tally of recipients is highly misleading.”

In fairness, the most widespread form of assistance identified in the Census Bureau analysis was Medicaid. Who receives Medicaid? Nearly half of Medicaid recipients are children, nearly 10 percent are elderly, about 15 percent are blind or disabled, and the remainder are adults (mostly low-income working parents).

In his column, O’Reilly seems particularly interested in linking the Obama administration to a supposed increase in “layabouts and people who game the system.” But when he introduces that claim with twisted statistics, what purpose is served?

In complaining about the so-called “entitlement culture,” O’Reilly says the Obama administration is encouraging people to “go on the dole” by receiving food stamps. Maybe he has a point. Then again, maybe those who argue for an increase in the minimum wage have a point. Why should we effectively subsidize low-wage employers by granting food stamps to full-time employees? (Yes, that’s another example of someone being both a full-time worker and “on welfare.”)

“As a person who has worked extremely hard for more than 40 years, I don't want my tax dollars going to drunkards and drug addicts,” O’Reilly writes.

Bravo.

Let me add this.

Media personalities receiving multi-million salaries ought to earn their pay through careful and fair analysis, rather than deceptive, uninformed and mean-spirited ranting.

 
 
 

 

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