On the Internet, all that glitters is not gold (Tulsa World)

By Ginnie Graham

Like urban myths of the vanishing hitchhiker and the escaped hook-armed convict, email touting that welfare packages pay more than salaries just won’t go away.

This pops up every so often, and it’s annoying. Bad information is always annoying, from the left and the right wings.

In this round, the targets are pesky welfare mothers, the working poor and others among our society’s downtrodden.

These types of chain-letterlike email take studies from various groups and splice them into a mess of a piece to cause outrage.

They go from in-box to in-box gathering comments of protest. Occasionally, they pop up on social media.

Get out the pitchforks. Throw the bums from office. The end is nigh.

Take a breath. It’ll be OK.

It’s also not true.

The debate about government budgets and programs are fair game but shouldn’t turn into a blood sport over wrong facts.

Half-truths: The latest shocking email chock full of half-truths is based on a flawed Cato Institute report released last year.

The Cato report added the values of all welfare programs and compared the result to low-wage jobs.

“Is it any wonder that they stay home rather than look for a job,” the email states. “Time for a drastic change. America is virtually bankrupt.”

First, no one qualifies for all government assistance programs at the same time.

Cato tallied food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, housing aid, energy bill assistance, emergency food assistance and aid from Women, Infants and Children.

It used average amounts received per person, without regard to whether the recipients were children, elderly or disabled.

As Gene Perry of the Oklahoma Policy Institute points out, these are different programs with different eligibility standards and not offered as some “package.”

Second, most of those programs require a person to be working or going to school to receive aid.

Third, the country’s economic breakdown had more to do with ethically challenged businesses in the lending, housing and speculation markets.

Working poor: It seems everyone has a story of someone scamming the welfare system. Maybe it’s true on occasion, but usually it’s a perception.

Just because someone drives a nice car to a food bank doesn’t mean that something underhanded is taking place. It could be a loaner or a gift. Or, maybe the person just recently lost a job and already had the car.

What economists and social workers are finding is a growing number of working poor — people who are not being paid a living wage to support their families.

About 10.4 million people in 2011 were in working poor families, up from 7.5 million in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The poorest counties in Oklahoma have a healthy percentage of residents receiving welfare in some form.

The economies aren’t booming in places like Adair or Okfuskee counties. You won’t see the opulence of middle- or upper-class residents using ill-gained welfare. You’ll see cars patched together, vacant buildings, for-sale signs and roadside flea markets.

Generational poverty is a real issue and a complex one.

It looks different in the more urban, condensed neighborhoods of Tulsa than it does in the rural areas near Stilwell.

Being a watchdog of public funds should be a pasttime of every American. We should be critical of government programs.

But before you forward me a study your buddy sent you, please don’t.

Not everything you read on the Internet is true. Not every study is statistically sound.

Being part of the conversation includes being more inquisitive than hitting the send button.

Circulating bad information doesn’t help an argument, it just adds to the noise that’s already difficult to tune out.



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