You are here

Welfare Recipients Relabeled As "Workers" Despite Doing Little or No Work

Welfare is often unpopular with voters, who fund it with their taxes. So California politicians and academics who support it are now redefining welfare recipients as “workers” even if they do almost no work, and as members of “working families” if they live in the same household as someone who does a tiny bit of work. By doing this, they hope to brand critics of welfare as “anti-worker.”

Fifty-six percent of welfare recipients are in “working families,” according to a misleading recent report by the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education. But the report reached that erroneous conclusion by defining even very lazy people as “workers”: “We define working families as those that have at least one family member who works 27 or more weeks per year and 10 or more hours per week.” But working just ten hours a week for only about half the weeks in the year doesn’t make you a typical worker, or show industriousness. As Breitbart notes, “if someone is only working ten hours a week, there is probably time to find a second job, rather than rely on government assistance.” The Center that put out this ridiculous “study” is funded not just by taxpayers, but also by government employee unions like AFSCME whose members are hired to administer such welfare programs.

This slanted “study” coincides with a recent push by California’s governor to expand welfare for so-called “workers” who actually do very little work. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Jerry Brown is

proposing a $380 million earned income tax credit” for “as many as 825,000 families and up to 2 million Californians. "It's just a straight deliverance of funding to people who are working very hard and are earning very little money, so in that sense I think it does a lot of good things," Brown said of the tax credit. The average tax credit would be $460 a year with a maximum credit of $2,653 for families with three or more children, to complement the federal tax credit program. It would be available to individuals with incomes of less than $6,580, or up to $13,870 for families with three or more dependents.

For an individual to have an income of less than $6,580 at the California minimum wage of $9 per hour, they would have to work no more than 731 hours per year, or 14 hours per week. That’s not “working very hard,” Governor Brown. The Associated Press story, which reads like a press release for Governor Brown’s proposed budget, never even questions his strange claim about this being hard work. The Associated Press wrongly labeled the record-setting budget “a cautious approach to spending” even though it does nothing about California’s massive unfunded pension problems, even as it relies on tax increases that were supposedly temporary but will likely become permanent, such as those in Proposition 30.

As the Los Angeles Daily News noted, “in 2013, California’s public-employee pension systems—including those for police, firefighters and teachers—were carrying an estimated aggregate of $198 billion in unfunded liability. That’s 31 times the unfunded liability 10 years earlier.” Governor Brown has largely turned a blind eye to pension-spiking by CALPERS that will explode California pension costs by billions of dollars, half-heartedly objecting to only one of the “ninety-nine categories used” in its “scheme.”

As profligate and irresponsible as Brown’s budget is, Brown is a model of responsibility and common sense compared to California’s money-wasting left-wing legislature. The AP quotes Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles demanding yet more “investments” (the trendy euphemism for government spending) and promising that “we can and will do more” to increase such spending.  State legislative leaders have sought to expand Medicaid and other government healthcare programs to cover illegal immigrants at a cost of at least $1.3 billion annually, which Brown has not yet fully endorsed, although his  budget does earmark a more modest sum, “$62 million to begin enrolling low-income immigrants in Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicaid, on the assumption that President Barack Obama will prevail in a court battle over his executive order.”

The relabeling of welfare recipients as “workers” even when they do little work echoes the approach of the progressive ideological guru George Lakoff, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who advocates reframing the political debate in deceptive ways. As The Atlantic noted, “Lakoff offers no new policy ideas. Instead he suggests that the Democrats reposition the ones they already have, and spruce up some unpopular terminology while they're at it. He advocates referring to ‘trial lawyers’ as ‘public-protection attorneys,’ replacing ‘taxes’ with ‘membership fees,’ and generally couching the entire Democratic message in palatable—even deceptive—language in order to simplify large ideas and disguise them behind innocent but powerful-sounding phrases.”

The Associated Press sometimes follows the deceptive Lakoff ideological approach when it comes to government spending, labeling spending on education and social programs as an “investment” even when the money spent will not be recouped later through higher tax revenue, making the reference to “investment” misleading.