Appearing Saturday on Fox News's "Cavuto on Business," contributor Charles Payne insisted that he knows firsthand how "it gets to be a little comfortable to be in poverty" in the United States.
"There's this idea that between the food stamps and the welfare and the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit and the local programs, you know, it gets a little comfortable to be in poverty," he said. "Listen, I've lived it first hand. I've seen when people don't go to work because they get everything paid for them. The incentive is not there."
Payne, one of the network's more vocal critics of assisting the poor and under employed, expanded on his theory about the laziness of poor people during a broadcast last Thursday, explaining that he's disappointed so many Americans -- over 47 million, according to the latest official numbers -- are on food stamps. "What we actually have ended up doing is created a wall, a giant barrier, where people don't move out of poverty into the middle class because in that initial transition they actually lose money and lose benefits," he said.
Payne is essentially repeating a common meme among many conservatives who believe that helping poor people keeps them poor and only fosters dependence and the growth of state benefit payments. What many Fox News reports on this subject fail to note is that 90 percent of all welfare benefits go to either members of working households, the elderly or the disabled, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
While it is certainly true that poverty and federal assistance has skyrocketed since the 2008 financial crash, the rate of growth has slowed tremendously since it nearly doubled from 2007-2010, yet participation still remains at record highs. Another facet of the data many conservatives fail to note: the number of Americans on food stamps grew most under President George W. Bush, going from 17 million in 2000 to 33 million in 2009, when President Barack Obama took over. In contrast, that number has continued to climb under Obama albeit at a slower rate, hitting 40 million in 2010, 44 million in 2011 and 46 million in 2012.
As for the whole idea that helping the poor keeps them in poverty, the logic of that claim doesn't seem to wash taken next to a 1997 CBPP study which found Social Security payments issued that year lifted 11.4 million elderly people out of poverty, slashing the poverty rate for people over 65 from 47.6 percent to 11.9 percent. A full 90 percent of the recipients saw their income levels raise above the poverty line because of Social Security benefits -- a program which, like unemployment, is paid for by the workers themselves, ensuring that the fund does not add to the debt or deficit.
Despite the massive volumes of federal and state aid, about 16 percent of Americans were living in poverty in 2011, including 20 percent of the nation's children, census numbers show. According to Feeding America, a leading advocate for food banks, such dire straights left an estimated 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children living with food insecurity, not knowing where their next meal would be coming from.
In other words: it doesn't seem likely those people would describe their situation as "comfortable."
This video is from Fox News's "Cavuto on Business," aired Saturday, March 30, 2013, snipped courtesy of progressive watchdog group Media Matters.