State House Rep. Peter Hansen claims half of all Americans are on welfare. Raising the minimum wage won’t help them, he says, because they don’t want to work. The Amherst Republican made the controversial comments while reviewing Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address for Patch:
I am also disappointed that he didn’t address … what he would do to get about 50% of our population off welfare. Even with a higher minimum wage if the worker isn’t working because welfare provides as good or better life style and requiring no effort on the part of the recipient they will continue to stay home and a higher minimum wage accomplishes little.
Hansen grossly exaggerated the number of Americans on welfare. A study conducted earlier this month by the Statistic Brain Research Institute determined 12.8 million Americans receive welfare benefits, 4.1% of the U.S. population. That number grows when recipients of food stamps (formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP) and Medicaid are added to the mix, but still falls well shy of including one of every two Americans.
Hansen may have been referring to a CNS News report that found 49.2% of Americans received government benefits in the fourth quarter of 2011. That figure, however, included programs that are not means tested, including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and veterans benefits. It also counted the number of Americans in households receiving Medicaid rather than individuals receiving the benefit.
Hansen’s comments echo rhetoric from Ronald Reagan, who waged war on “welfare queens” in the 1970s, mythical recipients of public assistance who lived a life of luxury while refusing to work. In fact, Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) requires welfare recipients to find work within two years or risk losing benefits — though many who work at low wage jobs still qualify for means tested public assistance.