Sometimes a newspaper headline is shocking not for the information it provides, but for the way it blows up what you think you already knew.
Take this front-page offering in the Dec. 17 issue of The Washington Post: “Welfare Rolls See First Climb in Years.” The news isn’t that, in this time of recession, welfare rolls are climbing. The news is that the number of people on welfare has been dropping for more than a decade.
“For the first time since welfare was redefined a dozen years ago, weaning millions of poor Americans from monthly government checks, the deteriorating economy is causing a surge in welfare rolls in a growing number of states,” begins the story, written by Amy Goldstein.
Wait -- the first time? After a year filled with bad economic news -- from soaring gas prices all summer to surging unemployment and sinking stock prices, it’s only now that welfare numbers are climbing for the first time?
What about 2004, when our economy was also supposedly tanking?
On the campaign trail John Kerry accused President Bush of having “the worst economic record since the Hoover administration.” In June of that year his spokesperson Allison Dobson declared, “Families are still struggling in this economy. Jobs are scarce and those lucky enough to have one are making $1,500 less each year.” His running mate John Edwards warned that, “Tonight a 10-year-old little girl will go to bed hungry, hoping and praying that tomorrow will not be as cold as today because she doesn’t have the coat to keep her warm.”
Funny that in such dire times those starving, unemployed, underpaid, coatless Americans didn’t swell the welfare rolls. That’s partially because the economy hasn’t been as bad as advertised over these last dozen years or so.
Remember when Ross Perot, running for president in 1992, warned that free trade with Mexico would create a “giant sucking sound” as millions of jobs poured south? Yet despite the dire warnings, free trade has boosted the American economy. Our country added 27 million jobs between 1993 and 2007, and unemployment (not surprisingly) tumbled.
Another reason welfare rolls have been shrinking is because the government started demanding that people look for work, rather than just accept a handout.
The “smart” people insisted this wouldn’t work, of course. Peter Edelman is now a law professor at Georgetown University. Back in 1996 he resigned from the Clinton administration in protest. “I have devoted the last 30-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America,” he wrote at the time. “I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction.”