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How an Astounding New Right-Wing Lie About the Economy Was Born

Insenstivity to human plight taken to new extremes.

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The authors added: “A few programs without an explicit low-income provision were included because either their target population is disproportionately poor or their purpose clearly indicates a presumption that participants will be low-income.”

The CRS report looked only at federal spending. Jeff Sessions' staff added the states' contributions as well as a big lie – it seems they decided to divide total spending on what they call “welfare” by the number of families in poverty rather than the number of people who benefit from these programs, in the process turning $9,000 in spending per household into $61,000.

The CRS report is dated October 16. The  National Review  ran an item  two days later, when Jeff Sessions issued a press release, and Fox News  amplified the claim  two days after that. Both reports mentioned the total price tag for these programs – close to $1 trillion – but neither cited the $168 per day claimed by Sessions' staffers. It was that framing, featured in the headline of Daniel Halper's  Weekly Standard  piece, that appears to have driven the myth to the larger conservative media.

The end result is that a lot of Americans are woefully misinformed about what we spend on anti-poverty programs, and what those programs look like. Traditional welfare – now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – costs the federal government just $16.5 billion, a fraction of what's now claimed by the Right. According to the  Center for Budget and Policy Priorities , even when one uses a very expansive definition of “welfare,” only “13 percent of the federal budget in 2011, or $466 billion, went to support programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship.”

So we have another gap between what is “true” in the conservative media bubble and the objective facts. In the real world, we spend about $25 per day on the needy. But, according to Fox News, the figure is $168.

Joshua Holland is Senior Digital Producer at BillMoyers.com, and host of Politics and Reality Radio. He's the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter

 
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