Archive for the ‘Economics and Faith’ Category

A recent post has gone viral around Facebook:

“Last month, the Senate Budget Committee reports that in fiscal year 2011, between food stamps, housing support, child care, Medicaid and other benefits, the average US household below the poverty line received $168 a day in government support. What’s the problem with that much support? Well, the median household income in America is just over $50,000, which averages out to $137.13 a day. To put it another way, being on welfare now pays the equivalent of $30 an hour for a 40-hour week, while the average job pays $25 an hour. And the person who works also has to pay taxes, which drops his pay to $21 an hour. It’s no wonder that welfare is now the biggest part of the budget, more than Social Security or defense. And why would anyone want to get off welfare when working pays $9 an hour less?” (1)

This post refers to a Senate Budget Committee report lead by U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee. As much as I am for budget reform and fiscal responsibility, I immediately saw several flaws and/or disturbing aspects of this report.

1. The “Welfare Programs”: The 83 “Welfare programs” that total up to the $1.03 trillion in welfare costs include programs such as the “Additional Child Tax Credit, Pell Grants, Federal Work Study Programs, Child Support Enforcement, Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Adoption Assistance, Foster Care, Weatherization Assistance Program (2). These programs are portrayed as the programs that directly go into the pockets of the poor. This is hardly so.

2. Below the Poverty Line: This report divides the total “welfare expenditures” ($1.03 trillion) by families living below the federal poverty level (FPL). In 2011, the U.S. had an estimated  61.3 million people below 100% FPL (3). However, the key problem with these numbers is that many of the above, “welfare programs” are provided to individuals with incomes up to 200% FPL. For example, in Ohio, children and pregnant women may be eligible for Medicaid services if their income falls below 200% FPL (4). If you include the individuals whose household incomes fall between 100% and 200% FPL, you add tens of millions of people. An estimated 8% (25 million souls) of the U.S. population have incomes falling between 100% and 138% FPL (5). Add in those falling between 138% and 200% FPL and that number nears the 50 million mark.

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3. Simple Math: If you take $1.03 trillion and divide it by 61.3 million souls, you will get a number that is (falsely) higher than if you took $1.03 trillion and divided it by 100 million souls. It is not clear exactly where the committee got its numbers but I did a little calculating on my own.Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 12.38.57 AM

If the average household size is 2.64 souls (U.S. Census Data, Average Household Size, (6), I figure that with my numbers, the “below 100% FPL” should be $170.14 ($30.94/hour) per household of “welfare program costs”. When you include those with household income “below 200% FPL”, the per household welfare costs drop to $104.30 ($18.96/hour). Even using this committee’s math (which I feel is faulty), the numbers change dramatically when you near reality.

4. Painting a Picture: Probably my biggest problem with this entire report is that it paints the picture of the poor getting wealthy off “the system”. It implies that all of these welfare dollars are going to people in cash form when this is simply not true or accurate. It compares government assistance (apples) to hourly wages (oranges). It “villainifies” a people who are oppressed by their circumstances (and sometimes bad decisions) and who have complex socioeconomic challenges (mental illness, chronic disease, criminal histories, developmental delays, histories of abuse, and drug use). My friends, I dare to go so far as to say this is sinful. We as Christians are to be the champions of the oppressed. At the very minimum, we should be accurately portraying the truth (truth in love would be icing on the cake). Is the system broken? Absolutely. Is abuse of the system rampant? No doubt. But we as followers of Christ should be the fighters on the front line working to give “cups of cold water” in His name.