Kevin Horrigan: Republicans see the 'working poor' as a myth

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The Salvation Army last year commissioned a poll assessing Americans' attitudes about the poor. More than one in four — 27 percent — said they believe people are poor because they are lazy, not because they chose their parents unwisely or were hammered by forces beyond their control.

By sheer coincidence, that 27 percent finding dovetails nicely with the Gallup Poll's recent report that 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party. It's also close to the 25 percent who told the Huffington Post/YouGov poll this summer that they believe aliens have visited planet Earth and the 25 percent who told the Pew Religion and Public Life Project in 2009 that they believe in astrology.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed in the Salvation Army poll in February 2012 said they believe people living in poverty can always find a job if they really want to work. Forty-nine percent believe a good work ethic is all that's needed to escape poverty.

Here's my favorite statistic from this poll: About 30 percent said poor people usually have lower moral values than their more affluent brothers and sisters.

People are entitled to believe stupid things, such as alien abductions. Hey, you can't prove otherwise, right? But when data disprove your beliefs, and you believe them anyway, then you're just being stupid.


At least 216,761 credulous people live in the state of Maine, that being the number who elected Republican Paul LePage governor in 2010.

A couple of Mondays ago, LePage told a meeting of the Informed Women's Network in suburban Portland that "about 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don't work. About 47 percent. It's really bad."

No, it's really false. The Informed Women's Network is now the Misinformed Women's Network.

LePage has a record of making profoundly ignorant remarks, but using "47 percent" is a doozy. Did he not notice what "47 percent" did to Mitt Romney last year?

"One in three" people in Maine are collecting welfare, LePage misinformed the Informed Women.

Actually, 15,729 Maine families were receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (the program that now passes for "welfare") the last time the statistics were compiled. Maine has 551,601 households. That's 3.1 percent, not 33 percent, so LePage was off by more than a factor of 10.

That's not the grasp of facts you want in a governor.

A spokeswoman for the governor (what a great job that must be) said LePage was counting not just those on cash assistance (TANF) but those on food stamps and Medicaid, too.


But half of the people on Medicaid are children, and an additional 25 percent are the disabled and the elderly with complex medical needs. The 25 percent of able-bodied adults on Medicaid often are working but making so little money they still qualify.

As to counting food stamps as "welfare," you can be able-bodied enough to work two jobs (like McDonald's suggests its employees do) and, if you've got kids, still be poor enough to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Four out of every 10 families in the SNAP program have at least one adult in their homes working full or part-time. There are work rules designed to make sure that, if you don't have a job, you're at least looking for one.

Can these rules be evaded? Yes, they can. Is this usually the case? No, it's not. Does it make people feel less selfish to think otherwise? Apparently so.

The official unemployment rate was 7.2 percent last month. The unofficial rate, which counts people who are so discouraged they've stopped and part-timers who can't find a full-time job, is roughly 4 to 5 points higher than that. Among African-Americans, the unemployment rate is 12.9 percent.

In Missouri, the food stamp allotment for an individual is $200 a month. Assuming you eat three meals a day, that's $2.22 per meal. That's about to go down to $189 a month, or $2.10 a meal.

On Thursday, Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, backed off previously announced plans to eliminate this princely perk for 58,000 long-term unemployed (able-bodied) adults. Since 2009, when the economy went in the tank, the state has received a federal waiver for work requirements for adults on food stamps. It's still hard for many Missourians to find anything but part-time minimum-wage work, which still leaves them eligible for food stamps.

However, beginning Friday, all Missouri food stamp recipients will see a decrease. That's because extra funds from the 2009 economic stimulus bill will expire. A single mother with three kids will see her allotment go from $668 to $632. That's $1.75 for each meal.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House has passed a Farm Bill that contains a further $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program over the next 10 years. Republicans said it would encourage people to get out of the house and look for jobs.


How do these people get the nerve to criticize anyone's moral values?

Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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