Conservatives continue to assert that anti-poverty programs have failed when, in fact, they have saved millions of people from plunging into poverty.
"Fox News," the house organ for right-wingers, has led this disinformation campaign. Let's examine what two network contributors said on the same day (July 23, 2012):
Mary Katherine in an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," said: "Well, here's the other thing. Like you noted, Bill, that we've spent 17 trillion dollars on the war on poverty since it began, originally the plan was to be able to lift people out of poverty. It does not feel to people like we're getting there, and (Obama')] out there doing other things and making the pitch that that is what's going to solve the problem. More spending. We're on track to spend over a trillion dollars per year on welfare programs. We've spent two trillion, I believe, over the last two fiscal years. And people are looking at that and it's not helping."
Monica Crowley, appearing on "Your World with Neil Cavuto," said: "Here's the problem. Since the mid-1960s when Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society program, and started this massive spending spree... What we now know is that none of those social welfare programs, that we continue to pour all of this taxpayer money into, have worked. None of it has alleviated poverty. In fact the poverty rate has gotten worse instead of better."
Media Matters, the media watchdog group, looked at a half-dozen reports that debunk the popular – though inaccurate – right-wing talking point.
"Amid reports of rising poverty, two Fox contributors claimed that anti-poverty programs have done nothing to alleviate poverty," Media Matters stated. "In fact, federal government programs such as food stamps, Social Security, and other measures created or boosted by the stimulus bill have kept millions out of poverty and lowered the poverty rate."
Poverty is defined by the federal government as a family of two parents and two children earning $22,113 annually or one parent and two children receiving $17,568 a year. According to the Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of Americans, or 46.2 million people, live below the poverty line. That's the highest rate since 1993 but 7.3 percent lower than 1959 when figures were first kept.
According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, the poverty rate was 22.4 percent in the late 1950s, declined throughout the 1960s – when the Great Society anti-poverty programs were created – and reached a low of 11.1 percent in 1973 before inching back up to its current level of 15.1 percent.
The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyzed Census Bureau figures and found that without federal anti-poverty programs, the poverty rate would have doubled.
"Census data show that in 2012, poverty rates without government income assistance of any sort would have been nearly twice as high as they actually were: 28.6 percent rather than 15.5 percent," the CBPP reported. "This shows the impact of public programs, including not only tax credits, unemployment insurance, and SNAP benefits (food stamps) but also Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans' benefits, public assistance (including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and housing assistance, among others, and the net effect of the tax system."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that:
Social Security kept nearly 20 million Americans out of poverty;
Stimulus programs kept nearly 7 million Americans out of poverty;
The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit lifted more than 8 million people, including 5 million children, out of poverty in 2010;
Unemployment insurance benefits kept more than 3 million people out of poverty in 2010;
Food stamps kept 4 million people, including 2 million children, out of poverty in 2010 and The Making Work Pay tax credit kept 1.5 million people out of poverty in 2010.
On April 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study that showed because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, between 2000 and 2009 there was "an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits."
In addition, the study found, SNAP's antipoverty effect was strongest in 2009 when benefits were increased under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package. That year, SNAP benefits reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent and child poverty by 20.9 percent.
Rather than being grateful that food stamps were available to U.S. citizens during a time of need, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took a slap at President Obama by calling him "the most successful food stamp president in American history." Gingrich continued to make that charge even after it was disclosed that more people received food stamps under George W. Bush than under Obama.
Conservatives can continue to repeat the same old lie over and over, but that won't make it true. Anti-poverty programs have worked and many of us are living proof.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry. com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/ currygeorge.)