For decades, the Republican Party has woven a tale of poor people sitting at home and living large on the taxpayer’s dime. In 1976, Ronald Reagan toured the country as a presidential candidate and told his supporters a story about a fictional “welfare queen” who did just that. In the ensuing years, many members of the GOP have altered the tale, but it is always about some person (usually African-American), who drives around in a brand new car, eating lobster and steak, while collecting large sums of money from welfare. The right-wing claims that these “welfare queens” do this because they are given government assistance and those “handouts” discourage them from working. However, when this theory that welfare discourages poor people from working is tested, time and again, it has not held up — and a new study confirms that the Republicans are just poor-shaming the people they sent into poverty with their outrageous bank deregulations.
A recent study by Harvard and MIT economists proved that the tale of the lazy moochers is completely unfounded. The economists — Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel Kreindler, and Benjamin Olken — took another look at data from seven randomized studies of cash programs in poor countries, to see if the theory that poor people who receive assistance are discouraged from working. They outlined their findings in a report and said there is “”no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.”
The seven cash programs that were the focus of the study were spread across the world: Two in Mexico and one each in Morocco, Indonesia, Philippines, Honduras, and Nicaragua. According to Vox:
Most of the programs the study analyzes are what’s known as “conditional cash transfers” (CCTs), where households receive help on the condition that they, say, have their kids attend school, or get them vaccinated. The idea is both to help poor people and to use the aid as a lever with which to ensure kids are getting educated and receiving health services. CCTs first caught on in Latin America, so it makes sense that most of the programs analyzed in the paper are from countries in that region. But the study also includes a Mexican program that provided a $13-a-month unconditional cash transfer to families in poor regions.
The economists found no significant changes in the number of people working, or the hours they worked, in any of the countries with the programs. They found that in some of the studies work went down, and in some the work went up but never by much. The programs affected the employment range from a 0.9 percentage point increase to a 1.9 decrease. So, there was almost no change at all.
Actually, some studies have found that giving poor people cash assistance encourages work, not discourages it. A paper by Christopher Blattman, Eric Green, Julian Jamison, and Jeannie Annan found that a program in Uganda actually increased work hours by 61 percent. In that program selected women were given $150 and some basic job skills. Instead of taking the money and doing nothing — as the Republican welfare queens would do — the women worked more hours.
The GOP will claim that these studies mean nothing because they weren’t done in the United States, but that’s not true. The largest group of welfare recipients are elderly, disabled or children. More than half of the households that receive assistance are supported by one or more incomes, this group of people is known as the “working poor.” These are people who work long hours, for low wages and still cannot make ends meet. In addition to the working poor, elderly and children, military veterans and families make up a significant portion of the pool of people who receive assistance. All in all, ninety percent of the households who receive some type of subsidy belong in one of these groups. They are not able-bodied adults who just sit at home and refuse to work.
This means that the Republican tale of welfare discouraging work is unequivocally false — not just in America, but worldwide.There is literally no scientific evidence to support their outrageous “welfare queen” claims. Unfortunately, the right will completely ignore these facts, and continue to spread lies about hardworking Americans who are just trying to survive because they are easy targets. What’s worse, while they attack the working poor for receiving small sums of money from the government, they will hand out billions of dollars in corporate welfare.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.