The mythmongers in Tea Party land and millions more Americans seem to prefer fiction to fact.
Based on a mid-April New York Times/CBS News poll of about 1,600 adults, we learned that 52 percent of Tea Party supporters believe "too much has been made of the problems facing black people." Could it be because 89 percent of the Partyers polled are white? They also have above-average incomes: 31 percent of Tea Partyers earn more than $75,000 a year, as opposed to 26 percent of all poll respondents. A cool 68 percent of Tea Partyers consider themselves middle-class or above. And they’re very angry about government spending. As one woman says, "I’m sick and tired of them wasting money" (though she probably doesn’t want her Medicare or Social Security touched).
If the Tea Partyers think too much is made of problems facing blacks and too much is being spent, can we conclude, ergo, that they think blacks are getting too many handouts? If so, they would not be alone. And they would also be mistaken. In the 1970s their predecessors’ prevailing wisdom was that welfare moms drove Cadillacs and luxuriated in government largesse while others (substitute hard-working white folks) were kept from the cookie jar.
So let’s set the record straight—for then and now.
One way to see whether blacks are getting too much attention is to look at how funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus package) were distributed among racial groups. Arloc Sherman, a researcher at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who checked about 25 percent of the stimulus outlays that went directly to households, found that for every dollar of government benefits—such as for child tax credits, extended unemployment payments and a hike in food stamps—about 64 cents went to non-Hispanic whites, 16 cents to Hispanics, 6 cents to others and 15 cents to non-Hispanic blacks. The percentages roughly correspond to the different groups’ numbers in the population—hardly a windfall for blacks.
The Tea Partyers probably just don’t like the poor, period—or that the government provides them with benefits. Although 15 million Americans are out of work and haven’t found jobs for months, 73 percent of Tea Partyers think benefits encourage the poor to remain poor. But if they cared to look, they’d see that the wealthy get far more benefits than do those with low incomes. In 1978, when economist Joseph Pechman at the Brookings Institution scoured the federal budget, he found that all programs for the poor totaled $47 billion, while those for middle- and upper-income groups—mostly in the form of tax write-offs—ballooned to $158 billion, more than three times more.