Obama AFDC TANF EITC and facts which are stubborn things

In his speech on inequality Barack Obama said

it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work, but we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining and a minimum wage — (applause) — these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.
Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security, a floor through which they could not fall, we helped millions of Americans live in dignity and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better by taking a risk on a great idea. Without Social Security nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty — half. Today fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today virtually all do. And because we’ve strengthened that safety net and expanded pro-work and pro- family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.

I want to stress that I do no mean to criticize Obama’s speech or even suggest that it could possibly have been better. However, I do wish to note the facts that it contains a gross contradiction (or flip flop) and a lie.

I think the elisions in this quotation are entirely fair and demonstrate the contradiction

“some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed … poorly designed, created disincentives to work, but … every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security, a floor through which they could not fall, we helped millions of Americans live in dignity “

The reform of welfare was changing it from a program which established a floor through which families with dependent children could not fall to a program in which some families with dependent children have zero cash income. It is logically possible to support welfare reform if one thinks “a floor through which they could not fall,” is bad because it creates disincentives to work. It is not possible to believe both of Obama’s quoted claims if one is even vaguely familiar with the text of the 1996 welfare reform bill (as Obama surely is).

Am I saying he lied in the speech? Well aside from that passage he undeniably did.

Update: In fact he did not “undeniably” lie. He was referring to the revised poverty measure in which measured income includes food stamps and the EITC. That’s why it is a “new study”. The phrase “poverty rate” does not have to refer to the official poverty rate. I now think “since the 60s” means “since 1967” so I no longer think he was rounding up a decade. Ooops.

wonkblog explains all this.

end update.

The claim

“because we’ve strengthened that safety net and expanded pro-work and pro- family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.”

is a plain lie. Obama talks to wonks (hell he is,among other things, a wonk). He knows perfectly well that the decline in the poverty rate preceded the introduction of the earned income tax credit.

The deliberately vague term “the 1960s” is used to obscure the fact that the decline occurred during the 1960s. He attempted to deceive the listener. “the 1960s “ is usually used to refer to the late 60s with connotations of the great society programs not to mention hippies and such. But the 40 percent decline is from the early “mad men” 1960s.

The decline in poverty and the massive expansion of AFDC roles were simultaneous. In contrast, poverty has not declined since the EITC was introduced in 1975poverty

These are simply facts familiar to anyone who has ever glanced at the time series of US poverty rates. They are facts which are unacceptable to most Americans, so Obama sided with ideology and against the truth and lied.

Again I stress that I don’t view either of my observations as criticisms. To defer to the widespread hatred of AFDC and
love of welfare reform, Obama contradicted himself and lied and I, Robert Waldmann, applaud him for doing so.

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