- - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

With multimillionaire Democrats such as Hillary Clinton predictably accusing mean Republicans of ignoring the poor, and the upcoming election sure to hinge on “who cares more” about struggling Americans, it’s fair to ask who the poor actually are.

The number of Americans receiving assistance from about 79 means-tested federal poverty programs is up 32 percent since 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected. Now more than 100 million — nearly one in three Americans — get benefits from at least one of these programs, not including Social Security and Medicare payments.

But how is this possible in the most prosperous nation on earth? It’s because of the crafty way the Census Bureau inflates the numbers of those who qualify as “poor” by omitting nearly all of the government welfare payments they already receive when calculating their income.

For example, if the income of a family of four is below $24,250, they qualify for government poverty programs because the additional $10,000 a year they may already receive through those programs is not counted as part of their income. A Heritage Foundation study that examined census records concluded, “This neat bureaucratic ploy ensured that welfare programs could grow infinitely while ‘poverty’ remained unchanged” — at about 14 percent for decades.

That’s why America’s “poor” live surprisingly well. Here are some details from the Census Bureau:

• 42 percent of “poor” Americans who are eligible for low-income benefits own their homes, typically a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath residence.

• Nearly 75 percent of those the government considers poor have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more.

• Over half of poor families with kids have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation; 40 percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.

• 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning.

• Nearly 66 percent have cable or satellite TV.

• Half have a personal computer; one in seven has two or more computers.

• 43 percent have Internet access

Mr. Obama laments what happened to the middle class. Many seem to have a very comfortable lifestyle being “poor.” In fact, the average American classified as poor by the U.S. government has more living space than the average citizen living in Sweden, France, Germany or the United Kingdom. That’s the average European citizen, not those deemed “poor.”

So poor Americans may have air conditioning, but aren’t their kids starving? Well, no.

The “household food security survey” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession, 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food. Poor children are not undernourished, either: The average consumption of protein, vitamins and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. In fact, poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children.

Of course, even conservative Republicans want to provide a safety net for the truly needy and vulnerable — a safety net, not a hammock. Those struggling through Mr. Obama’s anemic economy often need help. But under the president, virtually every part of the anti-poverty apparatus has exploded far beyond actual need. It’s estimated that taxpayers ante up over $3 trillion annually for welfare benefits.

For instance, food stamp enrollment has seen a 77 percent increase since 2007, and its cost reached a record $78.4 billion in fiscal 2012, the last year for which data were available. The rise of poverty spending is the predictable result of the president actively encouraging more citizens to accept welfare by removing welfare-to-work requirements put in place in the Clinton-Republican welfare reform legislation, plus rewarding states for enrolling more government dependents, and even running taxpayer-funded advertising to attract more food stamp participants.

And not just for Americans. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has actually admitted an “official program” in partnership with the Mexican government to use brochures and other outreach to recruit more “foreign nationals” to food stamps. Census Bureau data reveals that most U.S. families headed by illegal immigrants use taxpayer-funded welfare programs, available to them because their American-born anchor babies are U.S. citizens.

This huge redistribution of taxpayer wealth toward welfare benefits is making America’s founding values of hard work, personal responsibility and self-reliance seem not only quaint, but unnecessary. Amazingly, in 35 states combined welfare benefits pay more than minimum-wage jobs, which means many have no reason to work.

According to a Cato Institute study, a worker would need to make more than $60,000 in Hawaii, and more than $50,000 in Washington D.C. and Massachusetts, to do better than collecting welfare. No wonder labor participation is at an all-time low. Of course, free money becomes an effective bribe to vote for the party that will keep the checks coming: the Democrats.

But Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic president who birthed New Deal, warned against welfare. “The lessons of history show that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber,” he said in 1935. “To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. The federal government must and shall quit this business of relief.”

He was right. Still, despite poverty program largesse, Democrats can be counted on to air commercials showing a Republican presidential candidate tipping an elderly lady over a cliff in her wheelchair. Depend on it.

Joy Overbeck is a Colorado journalist and author.

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