Op-Ed, 637 words

A Trumped-Up War on Welfare

One way the top 1 percent is trying to ease concerns about inequality is pretending that our safety net is too generous to the bottom 1 percent.

Bob Lord

You’re the top 1 percent. You pocket one out of every five dollars of the nation’s income — more than double your slice of that pie in 1976. You want even more, but the masses are catching on. What do you do?

You get your minions to attack the bottom 1 percent to distract the 98 percent in the middle.

That’s why the Cato Institute recently launched a woefully contrived “study” that reached the pre-ordained conclusion that welfare pays more than work — minimum wage work that is. Forbes, a leading business publication that calls itself a “capitalist tool,” proclaimed “On Labor Day 2013, Welfare Pays More Than Minimum-Wage Work In 35 States.”Lord-Welfare-Tau Zero

Cato is a libertarian think tank funded and dominated by the multi-billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Forbes of course trotted out the obligatory “compassionate” lines about how welfare creates the wrong incentives and “mires people in permanent poverty.” But the intended take-away was how the “national welfare championship” went to Hawaii, which according to Cato’s calculations lavishes up to $60,590 in annual welfare benefits on certain households.

Wow! $60,590 for being on welfare? Not really. The actual benefit package Cato conjures for Hawaii totals less than $30,000 in most other states. Hawaii’s exorbitant cost of living, 65 percent higher than the national average, explains the difference.

Who are those freeloaders to whom Forbes and Cato refer?

The neediest of the neediest of the needy, that’s who. If you round up, they’d be the bottom one percent of the population. But they’re more likely the bottom .01 percent. They may not even exist at all. Forbes fails to mention this reality and the Cato Institute makes you work hard to figure it out.

You see, to become one of Cato’s champion freeloaders, you need to be a mother of two minor children receiving seven different forms of benefits. Let’s call it the “Cato benefit package.”

It’s either extremely hard or impossible to qualify for this bundle of benefits. If the father of your children is paying any child support, you’re out. You also must be pregnant or have a child under age 5 to qualify for the Women, Infants and Children program, or “WIC,” one of the benefits Cato included in its package.

Cato also includes $23,798 per year in housing assistance in this jackpot, but the waiting list for housing assistance in Hawaii is between two and five years long. By the time you reach the top of the list, you likely no longer will qualify for another benefit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) because it’s, well, temporary. And if your youngest child has passed her fifth birthday before you get housing help, your WIC benefits will have stopped as well.

How many Hawaiian mothers actually fit the profile of Cato’s demonized welfare beneficiary, the one raking in the equivalent of $30,000 in other states? Cato and Forbes don’t say. Chances are there are either few or none.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Hawaiian families with children receiving housing assistance number 6,800, including two-parent households, one-child households, and single fathers. So figure perhaps 4,000 Hawaiian mothers of two children receive housing assistance. And how many of those 4,000 moms qualify for all six of the other benefits in the Cato package? Quite possibly zero, but almost certainly fewer than 1,000. Hawaii’s adult population, by the way, is about 1 million.

Do the mercenaries for the top 1 percenters promoting the war on welfare recipients know they’re attacking the neediest 1 percent of Americans? Of course. But their goal isn’t to highlight a welfare crisis that doesn’t exist. It’s to distract from the horrific inequality crisis that pervades our society.

If Cato and other champions of the 1 percent can direct our anger towards those mythical welfare freeloaders living large on our tax dollars, our anger over inequality may subside. So too will the pressure on politicians to do something about it.

Bob Lord, a veteran tax lawyer and former congressional candidate, practices and blogs in Phoenix, Arizona. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org) 

  • Johnny Dollar

    It’s a great thing somebody is happy and can rationalize paying for the welfare system. Good for you.

    • Regular Joe

      You complain about welfare system while the top 1% is robbing the middle class blind! Wake up.

      • Johnny Dollar

        Gee, I was only robbed once and it was about 30 years ago. I was out of town and don’t know who broke into the house. The police never found out either. I suspect it was not one of the “top 1%.” My insurance company covered the loss because my premiums were paid. It’s too bad the government doesn’t monitor potential fraud like the insurance company did.

        • alyssa terranova


  • Regular Joe

    Great read! Cato Inst should be ashamed of itself, passing false information! As a former social wkr in RI’s AFCD/TANF program, I challenge anyone to debate me over this topic. How Cato got the numbers so high was by putting a price tag on medicaid. Without costing medical assistance, RI family of 3 receives $554/month cash; $367/month food stamps. Do the math! Min wage = $12,999/yr; welfare in RI (foodstamps + cash) = $11,052/yr! Wake up America!

    • Johnny Dollar

      I don’t understand the relevance of your comment. Most of the article describes the system in HI. I see no mention of RI anywhere in this piece.

      • Regular Joe

        The entire “study” is flawed. I merely used RI as an example. They included 35 states in their review, it’s their numbers which are wrong. It’s pure propaganda. “Fraud units” were cut about 15 yrs ago! Nation wide trend.

        • Johnny Dollar

          $11,052 seems like a pretty good deal to me vs. rolling out of bed every day, collecting $12,999 and having to pay taxes on it. I may have to move to RI. I hope there isn’t any of that global warming stuff going on there. Then the deal is off.

  • MichaelNolan

    Every Cato Institute report I’ve ever seen is full of lies.

  • David

    Guess who Johnny Dollar works for?

  • 2Gary2

    corporate welfare is way higher and costs way more than ANY welfare for poor people. This is not my opinion but a fact that can be looked up.

  • GHorner

    Did a bit of researching on Koch bros. and Cato Inst. Seems Mr Lord’s claims that the Koch brothers “control” of the Cato Institute is yet another liberal… let’s just say… “misrepresentation!” Of the 340 million dollars raised by the Cato institute, the Koch brothers have donated 35 million over the life of the institution… and currently are suing Cato! With no donations since 2010, where does the theory of control come from?

    Talk about deflecting!.. Bob Lord… you are an excellent example of just that! What happened to Government assisting just enough to keep people from going under… until they can find employment? “Progressives” don’t seem to like the idea that we are all responsible for ourselves. Why else guarantee so much for such a long period of time?