This is pretty long winded! http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/LiberalFAQ.htm#Backwelfareblack http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/LiberalFAQ.htm Myth: There are Welfare Queens driving Welfare Cadillacs. Fact: Reagan made up this story. Summary Reagan's story of a Welfare Queen driving a Welfare Cadillac was apocryphal. Even so, there is no evidence that welfare cheating is a significant problem; besides, individual welfare payments are too small for recipients to live well. Argument Conservative politicians have a talent for telling memorable anecdotes that capture the essence of their beliefs on any particular issue. One of the most enduring of these came from Ronald Reagan on the subject of welfare. He cited a Chicago "Welfare Queen" who had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully promised to roll back welfare; and ever since, the "Welfare Queen" driving her "Welfare Cadillac" has become permanently lodged in American political folklore. Unfortunately, like most great conservative anecdotes, it wasn't really true. The media searched for this welfare cheat in the hopes of interviewing her, and discovered that she didn't even exist. As a bit of class warfare, however, it was brilliant. It diverted public attention from insider traders in their limousines to Welfare Queens in their Cadillacs, even though the former were stealing thousands of times more from the American people than the latter. Just one example of the cost of white collar crime would become apparent a few years later, when President Bush bailed out the Savings & Loans industry with $500 billion of the taxpayer's money -- enough to fund 20 years of federal AFDC. Questions of class warfare aside, there is no evidence that there is a significant problem with welfare cheating. In 1991 less than 5 percent of all welfare benefits went to persons who were not entitled to them, and this figure includes errors committed by the welfare agency. (1) Nor are people getting rich off welfare. The two largest welfare programs are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and food stamps. In 1992, the average yearly AFDC family payment was $4,572, and food stamps for a family of three averaged $2,469, for a total of $7,041. (2) In that year, the poverty level for a mother with two children was $11,186. (3) Thus, these two programs paid only 63 percent of the poverty level, and 74 percent of a minimum wage job. There are other welfare programs, of course, but they either pay a minuscule fraction of these two programs, or, if larger, are collected by only a small percentage of welfare recipients. The typical welfare recipient remains among the poorest members of society. Myth: People on welfare are usually black, teenage mothers who stay on ten years at a time. Fact: Most welfare recipients are non-black, adult and on welfare less than two years at a time. Summary According to the statistics, whites form the largest racial group on welfare; half of all welfare recipients leave in the first two years; and teenagers form less than 8 percent of all welfare mothers. Argument Here are the statistics on welfare recipients: Traits of families on AFDC (1) Race -------------- White 38.8% Black 37.2 Hispanic 17.8 Asian 2.8 Other 3.4 Time on AFDC --------------------------- Less than 7 months 19.0% 7 to 12 months 15.2 One to two years 19.3 Two to five years 26.9 Over five years 19.6 Number of children ------------------- One 43.2% Two 30.7 Three 15.8 Four or more 10.3 Age of Mother ------------------ Teenager 7.6% 20 - 29 47.9 30 - 39 32.7 40 or older 11.8 Status of Father 1973 1992 ------------------------------------- Divorced or separated 46.5% 28.6 Deceased 5.0 1.6 Unemployed or Disabled 14.3 9.0 Not married to mother 31.5 55.3 Other or Unknown 2.7 5.5 Myth: The poor receive the most welfare. Fact: Corporations receive the most welfare. Summary Entitlement spending on households is surprisingly "flat" in the U.S. -- the spending is distributed proportionately among the various income groups. However, federal spending tilts in favor of the rich when you add corporate welfare to the mix. And this pro-wealthy favoritism becomes more pronounced when you consider who is paying for it: over the last few decades, the tax rates for the rich have sharply fallen, both in personal income and corporate taxes. Argument The following chart shows how entitlement spending is distributed in the U.S.: Distributions of Federal Funds by Income Bracket, Compared to Distribution of Households by Income Bracket, CY 1991 (1) Percent of Percent of Income all households all benefits ----------------------------------------------- Under $10,000 16.4% 17.8% $10,000 - $20,000 18.8 21.7 $20,000 - $30,000 17.0 17.2 $30,000 - $50,000 23.6 21.8 $50,000 - $100,000 19.1 15.9 Over $100,000 5.1 5.6 As you can see, federal entitlements are distributed proportionately among the income groups (with insignificant shifts towards the poor and the very rich). If taxes were flat as well under this distribution system, then Uncle Sam would simply be returning everyone's money to them -- a pointless and wasteful exercise, everyone would agree. It's only when taxes are more progressive that income is shifted downward under the above system. For this reason, the loss of tax progressivity over the last several decades means that less income is being redistributed to the poor, and Uncle Sam is increasingly engaging in a pointless exercise: The Loss of Tax Progressivity Effective Family Federal Tax Rate (Income and FICA) (2) Year Median Millionaire or Top 1% --------------------------------------- 1948 5.3% 76.9% 1955 9.1 85.5 1960 12.4 85.5 1965 11.6 66.9 1970 16.1 68.6 1975 20.0 -- 1977 -- 35.5 1980 23.7 31.7 1985 24.4 24.9 1989 24.4 26.7 Keep in mind the first column is for median families; poorer families pay even less, so there is still some downward distribution. But there is less downward distribution than in previous decades, namely, the 50s and 60s. That's a critique from the tax angle; another is possible from the spending angle. The first chart is a strong argument for means-testing federal entitlements. The rich do not need the money; they've already got the most of it. Perhaps an argument exists for helping the rich out in times of dire emergency, but to give them non-emergency funds like Social Security begs a defense. Others might argue from a "trickle-down" philosophy that enriching the rich will increase investment in jobs and business, but, as statistics from the 80s reveal, the rich can enjoy exploding incomes and still invest less than ever before. The trickle-down proposal can thus be rejected on historical grounds alone. However, the above discussion only concerns households. What happens when corporate welfare is thrown into the mix? To answer this, we must first answer three questions: what is corporate welfare? How much of it is there? And whom does it benefit? The definition of corporate welfare Corporate welfare can be defined as pork-barrel spending, unjustified government subsidies, and unjustified tax breaks. They qualify as welfare for the following reasons: The difference between pork and legitimate government contracting is their corresponding value to society. When Eisenhower paved the nation with highways, the economic benefits were obvious, and few if any begrudged the highway construction companies their good fortune. But when Congress spends $500,000 to build and run a Lawrence Welk museum, the result is a waste of the taxpayer's money and a needless diversion of our nation's limited resources. And the reason such a diversion occurs is not because market forces or market signals compel such a project. It occurs because a corporate lobbyist makes a campaign contribution to a certain influential member of Congress, who returns the favor by giving him this package of squealing bacon. The result is a happy businessman who is given something for nothing. True, his project creates jobs -- but they are not economically justified. It's as if the government gave a welfare check to a poor person and said: "You have to earn this check -- go find ten of your friends and have them stand on their heads, and then pay them 50 percent of this check for doing so." It's even worse than that, because the pork contractor is consuming our nation's finite resources. Government subsidies are judged by the same criteria. Presently the government is subsidizing the Genome Project, which is too expensive and long-term for private enterprise to invest in. Yet there is reason to believe it will probably eliminate most genetic diseases in the human race, and its social benefits and economic promise are obvious. This is not the case for the Texas wool and mohair subsidies, which cost Uncle Sam about $100 million a year for a product the Defense Department no longer wants or needs. Again, these suppliers could not make the same money on the free market, so any profits they realize are the equivalent of a welfare check. In this case, subsidy programs resemble pork -- indeed, many are pork. Unjustified tax breaks are also welfare. Most companies pay taxes, and they receive a number of public goods and services in return. These include police and fire protection, national security, public roads, utilities, government economic data, publicly funded research and development, educated workers, etc. If a corporate lobbyist can win a $5,000 tax break, this means that the company is funding less of the government's goods and services, even though it's drawing on them just as heavily as before. In other words, society is carrying this company to a greater degree. Now, there may be good reasons for doing so; Uncle Sam may want to give tax breaks to the companies building the information superhighway, because of the enormous economic promise it holds. But most of the time, tax breaks are not given out for justified economic reasons like this. Essentially, any company with a lobbyist can bribe a tax break out of a member of Congress. Which means that the rest of society has to pick up the slack; they might as well be paying these "legal tax cheats" a welfare check. Notice that subsidies and tax breaks are opposite sides of the same coin. No matter which a company receives, the effects are the same. The costs of corporate welfare The estimates vary on how much pork, unjustified subsidies and tax breaks are really out there, but moderate estimates run from $100 to $150 billion a year. Here are what various think tanks and policy groups estimate: According to the conservative Heritage Foundation (which is basically in bed with corporate America), government could save $20 billion a year by eliminating just three dozen corporate giveaways. This is almost one year's worth of AFDC. The Office of Management and Budget and Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation report that taxpayers pay businesses $51 billion in direct subsidies and lose another $53.3 billion in corporate tax breaks, for a total of $104.3 billion a year. In a three-part series on corporate welfare (7/7/96), the Boston Globe writes: "The $150 billion for corporate subsidies and tax benefits eclipses the annual budget deficit of $130 billion. It's more than the $145 billion paid out annually for the core programs of the social welfare state: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), student aid, housing, food and nutrition, and all direct public assistance (excluding Social Security and medical care)." Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law has identified $167 billion in corporate tax breaks and handouts given away in 1994. The Progressive Policy Institute, a moderate Democratic think tank, has identified $225 billion worth of questionable, special-interest spending and tax subsidies that Congress should reevaluate. It has also called for Congress to save $265 billion over 5 years by eliminating or scaling back 120 specific programs. The Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, estimates that federal aid to corporations ranges from $250 to $350 billion a year. It has specifically identified 125 federal programs subsidizing private businesses that would save taxpayers $85 billion if cut. The House Progressive Caucus, which is mostly comprised of Democratic members of Congress, has called for the elimination of $800 billion in tax subsidies and other benefits for corporations and the rich. Corporate welfare is largely a lobbyist phenomenon. As a rule, legislators do not give away something for nothing; it is a favor they bestow on those who donate to their re-election campaigns. Not surprisingly, the meteoric rise of the corporate special interest system in 1975 (when corporate PACs were legalized) has been accompanied by an equal rise in corporate welfare. Today, the federal government is giving away more pork, subsidies and tax breaks than at any time in its history. Despite winning more subsidies and pork, however, corporations are paying less and less in taxes. None of the above estimates includes one of the largest corporate tax breaks in history: the continually falling share of federal tax revenues paid by corporations. Over the decades, the tax burden has been shifted away from corporations and towards workers: Source of funds for Federal Spending (3) Personal Corporate Payroll Excise/ Decade Income Tax Income Tax Tax Estate Borrowing ---------------------------------------------------------------- 1950s 42.0% 26.9% 11.5% 17.2% 2.5% 1960s 42.0 20.4 18.4 14.9 4.4 1970s 40.3 13.3 27.7 11.3 11.1 1980s 38.0 7.7 29.2 8.2 17.7 The share paid by corporations has fallen to less than a third of its former level, whereas that of the heavily regressive payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare) has nearly tripled. Who's collecting more welfare from whom? Who benefits from corporate welfare Corporate welfare increases a company's profits. Lobbyists argue that this helps everybody, because those profits go to create jobs, invest in businesses, promote research and development, etc. However, none of these alleged benefits have been happening since corporate welfare began rising in 1975. There were 24 million new jobs created in the relatively low corporate-welfare 70s. In the 80s, when corporate welfare reached full steam, only 18 million new jobs were created. (4) Investment also fell in the 80s. Between 1970 and 1979, the rate of private investment was 18.6 percent; between 1980 and 1992, it fell to 17.4 percent. (5) Workers have not been benefiting either -- the average hourly wage has been falling: Average Hourly Wages (Total private industry, 1982 dollars) (6) 1978 8.40 1979 8.17 1980 7.78 1981 7.69 1982 7.68 1983 7.79 1984 7.80 1985 7.77 1986 7.81 1987 7.73 1988 7.69 1989 7.64 1990 7.52 1991 7.45 1992 7.41 1993 7.39 1994 7.40 1995 7.40 So if corporate welfare hasn't been going to jobs, investment or blue-collar wages, where has it been going? The answer: the soaring incomes of the rich. CEO pay nearly achieved orbital velocity in the last few decades: Salaries and benefits of corporate CEOs as a multiple of the average factory worker's (7) 1980 30 times 1991 130-140 1996 187 And that's just a snapshot of a much larger trend. Here's how much income for different income groups grew during the 80s: Percent Increase of Combined Salaries by Income Bracket, unadjusted for inflation (1980s) (8) Income Bracket Percent Increase ------------------------------------- $20,000 - 50,000 44% 200,000 - 1 million 697 Over $1 million 2,184 Inflation over the decade was roughly over 50 percent, so the income growth for the middle class didn't even keep pace with inflation. (Household income statistics, which show a rise for all income groups in the 80s, are deceptive because wives were joining their husbands in the workforce. The above measure corrects for this statistical glitch.) Pretty clearly, corporate welfare increases the profitability of companies, thus allowing them to pay the exploding owner and management pay for which the last few decades have become notorious. Essentially, corporate welfare is a welfare check for rich individuals. By contrast, individual welfare payments for the poor have been falling. Between 1970 and 1991, the purchasing power of benefits for the typical AFDC family fell 42 percent, primarily as a result of state and federal cuts. (9) The following chart shows just how small -- and growing smaller -- welfare payments for the poor really are: Average Monthly Benefits (Constant Dollars, CPI-U) (10) Program 1980 1993 ------------------------------------- AFDC (per family) $350 261 Food Stamps (per person) 42 47 Keep in mind that AFDC and food stamps are by far the largest welfare programs for the poor. (Medicare is technically larger, but 75 percent of that goes to the blind, the elderly and the otherwise disabled.) In conclusion, the rich have been paying lower and lower rates on personal income and corporate taxes. But they receive a proportional share of personal entitlements, and they are outright favored when it comes to corporate welfare. For them to criticize welfare programs for the poor is therefore misleading at best, and hypocritical at worst.