When trekking up and down Bullshit Mountain, while picking through the tangled webs woven between the tall leafy lies and stepping gingerly around the surprise geysers of hot air, one will occasionally find a deep vein of rich, steadily flowing bullshit. If one is lucky, it is of a particular consistency and texture making it both novel, and predictably formulaic. On one recent expedition, I came across one such vein. The particular piece that led me there was not actually novel. In fact it’s an old and right-wing revered canard by now, but it has all of the earmarks of great bullshit. For me, it was kind of like coming across the boot of an old prospector who’d just missed the mother lode and hobbled off to go live with his daughter and son-in law, never knowing how close he’d come to glory. But here I sit, looking that crap-encrusted piece of footwear over and realizing that it’s covered in paydirt. Today’s piece of bullshit is that tell-tale signpost of more to come… the ‘Welfare Queen’;
This episode is brought to you by the letter “F”… No, not THAT word! A FAR worse word; “Fallacy”. In this case, today’s fallacy is called ‘Anecdotal’. In case anyone isn’t familiar, I’ll go ahead and post a definition:
Misleading vividness (also known as anecdotal fallacy) is anecdotal evidence describing an occurrence with sufficient detail to permit hasty generalizations about the occurrence. It may be used, for example, to convince someone that the occurrence is a widespread problem. Although misleading vividness does little to support an argument logically, it can have a very strong psychological effect because of a cognitive heuristic called the availability heuristic.
We’ve seen this misrepresentation already. It is the quiet and ardent suggestion that nearly all people on welfare are not only gaming the system to get free stuff, and doing it so that they can take advantage of the hard work of others without ever punching a clock a day of their lives, but that they are also a certain ‘type’ of person. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
“Why are you nudging me?”
“Well I WAS winking.”
“Who can see winking through these things?”
So, we have a video representing a person on welfare. That person is:
3) Using the system to suck away the hard won wages of regular working folks over a period of at least a decade with the apparent notion that she and her children, and their children and children’s children will continue to drain the working classes like Vampire Zombie Ticks for generations to come.
Okay, that last part about generations of VZTs feasting on hard-working tax payers’ dollars wasn’t explicitly represented, or even directly implied… but that’s the beauty of bullshit: If you know your audience, you don’t have to say it to get them to think it.
The power of the anecdotal fallacy is that it contains elements of truth. It is a piece of actual reality. Regardless of whether this 2013 video is real or an actress playing a part, it does represent a reality: There ARE people who do not work and subsist (or better) on state handouts. The video is not presented as a ‘rare case’ however, and for obvious reasons. The purpose of this piece of bullshit is the usual shtick: Incite outrage among the ignorant throngs that this is fully representative of the vast majority of welfare recipients who are directly responsible for that extra 10% in taxes that caused them to miss a mortgage payment.
(Since I know I’m going to have to spell it out for certain denizens of BS Mountain: If you pay 30% of income in taxes and 33% of that goes toward welfare programs, that represents 10% of your income)
Let’s face it, if paying 10% of an income that warrants a tax bracket approaching 30% ($100,000 or more) might break you, you’re living above your means.
Okay, let’s say that it would break you, and that makes you angry. Then you see the above video about how YOUR tax dollars are being sucked away by lazy, self-entitled, (certain) people on a generational basis, NOW you’re furious! You want to END these wasteful programs and force these lazy good for nothing people of a certain type to work or starve!
Indeed we sometimes see, more often among conservatives, the very uncivilized notion that the poor should just be left to starve or die. Because as far as most conservatives are concerned being poor isn’t a symptom of a broken economy or bad policies, it’s a personal character flaw and the fault of the impoverished for having made bad decisions. Sure, most of the people saying that made the intelligent choice to be born into a family of means and privilege, and also managed to choose not to ever have an accident or suffer a major medical emergency… but we can’t all be so smart, can we?
It must be so simple and so easy to divest oneself of any sense of social responsibility, to remove any sense of guilt for not helping our neighbors by telling ourselves that they ‘somehow deserve their fate’. Videos like the one above are designed to cultivate that exact sentiment in people who already see empathy as some kind of weakness. It also helps their narrative that the woman is black, because ‘those people’, ‘unlike us’, are just lazy.
But then we look at the real numbers: As it turns out, the majority of people on SNAP (food stamps) are…. Wait for it….
*Department of Agriculture more recent stats.
When it comes to overall welfare benefits (Housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, Cash assistance), the number of black people enrolled still does not account for even half of all beneficiaries. Sure, we can acknowledge that a higher percentage of black people are on welfare than anyone else, but YOU try being socio-economically repressed for a couple hundred years and see how long it takes to climb back up the ladder. Either way, it still doesn’t change the entirely dishonest nature of the video.
The VAST MAJORITY of welfare recipients (Over 80%) are on welfare for less than 5 years. Of those, roughly 70% are enrolled for under 2 years. That leaves less than 20% who are on a given program for more than 5 years, and it stands to reason that the number decreases as we add more years. But no statistics are collected to determine what percentage of those on welfare are generational recipients. Are they out there? Absolutely. Do they make up any significant proportion of the welfare rolls? Not by an astronomical unit. Given the progression from the 80% mark at under 5 years, even a highly liberal estimate would put 5% at the 20 year mark.
So no, the video representing the idea that welfare recipients are ‘parasites for life’ is not even sharing an orbit with reality.
As for the ‘lazy’ part? Nope. The reality is that 73% of welfare recipients are employed or in a working family (children, disabled, elderly). Yes, that means that as many as 27% are unemployed and receiving benefits. When we re-apply the percentages to that, less than half are black (39%), and less than 20% of that group are on benefits for over 5 years. That would be 0.27 x 0 .39 = 0 .105, 0.105 x 0.2 = .021, or 2.1% of all people on welfare might be black, unemployed, and enrolled for over 5 years. Sure, my methodology is loose and there are many other mitigating factors, but the number is certainly in a very small ballpark.
So we have a video interview with a woman that represents likely less than 1% of all welfare recipients (more than ten years enrolled) being wheeled out as though she is the face of some vast majority of moochers, and the outraged mob responds with comments such as:
“She will NEVER get a job as long as we, the WORKING people, continue to contribute to her monthly paycheck. This system needs to be reevaluated!!!!!”
“Lol and so many liberals have told me “welfare isn’t bad it only last so long. It helps mom’s get back on their feet” lol so 12 years isn’t long to them ?”
“This is why the system is going broke! And the blacks think we are holding them back?? Maybe the Democrats! This is a generational plan, they never better themselves, don’t want to work , rather stay home and have more children and the cycle goes on!”
… And I’m sure that last comment was Totally Not Racist™
That’s the point, of course. All of these people bought completely into the bullshit narrative that all the money they pay for welfare goes to lazy, black people for generations. To be fair, a few comments pointed out that this was an isolated example, but on Bullshit Mountain, one Welfare Fallacy is all it takes to make them believe the bullshit.