Unreformed on Welfare
June 25, 2001
comments powered by Disqus
A front-page, above -the-fold article in today's New York Times reports on families who are coming up against the new five-year limit on federal welfare benefits. The second paragraph of the article describes three welfare recipients facing the cutoff. One is described as "one of two working parents in a family of five who were getting by on low wages and their small cash aid supplement." Another is described as "the sole parent in a family of six, who is still not working for pay, but stretches reduced benefits with dried beans and the bread she bakes." A third is described as a woman "whose battles with cancer, asthma and sickle-cell anemia are still interfering with her ability to participate in workfare and support her teenage daughter."
These are sympathetic, tear-jerking portraits, and a reader who stops reading at the front-page portion of the article is likely to agree with the article's passionate final quote -- "you cannot just abandon somebody." Here the mean welfare reformers are about to abandon the poor "working parents," the bread-baking "sole parent," the cancer victim.
You have to read all the way to the 15th paragraph of the story to find that one of the "working parents" cited by the Times "went to prison for a 1990 drug conviction." He was in for three years. The Times doesn't give any more details on the crime, but it sure is interesting the way that front-page thumbnail description reads "working parent" rather than ex-convict. This isn't to suggest that the children of convicted criminals should be without government support and condemned to poverty. But somehow welfare reform advocates -- particularly Mayor Giuliani -- and time limits seem a more convenient place for the Times to place the blame than with individual parents.
As for the bread-baking mom, you have to read all the way to the 29th paragraph to find a reference to "her absent husband." Why is the husband absent? Does he contribute to the children's support? The Times doesn't say. After all, why blame the absent husband when there's a more convenient villain available in the form of Mayor Giuliani and those welfare limits?
The cancer victim's case is another one with an absent father. We are told that she "had fled domestic violence when her two daughters were little." Was the alleged domestic violence perpetrator tried and convicted? If so, the pattern emerging is not one primarily about welfare time limits but one about the separate but related social problem of supporting the families of criminals. If the father is not in prison, is he paying child support? Again, the Times doesn't tell us anything about the absent father, who one might think owes his children more than the taxpayers do. Finally, near the end of this long story, readers learn that the cancer victim's government assistance may not be cut off at all -- it will just be converted from welfare to SSI, a Social Security program that supports the disabled.
Smartertimes.com supposes the Times deserves a bit of credit for including the facts about convictions, absent fathers and Social Security somewhere in the article where a diligent reader can notice them. But by framing the story in terms of welfare time limits, the Times obscures and downplays the issues of crime and absent fathers. And of course, there's no mention in the Times of the way the old welfare program actually encouraged absentee fatherhood by providing financial incentives for it.
Anti-Development: An article in the national section of today's New York Times reports on the battle against housing development in Maryland. In a 20-paragraph article, a mere four paragraphs are devoted to the pro-development argument. The other 16 are devoted to opponents of development describing the new housing as "a cancer" and accusing the farmers who sell to developers of "profiteering." It's not exactly an even-handed dispatch. If a newspaper is going to compare something or someone to cancer, the least the paper can do is to give that phenomenon or person a reasonable chance at self-defense.
Begging the Question: An article in the business section of today's New York Times reports on Internet domain names. The Times writes, "Moreover, it is not clear how many companies and trademark owners eligible to participate in early registration processes are aware that queues are forming for the new names. Which itself begs the question: will the new domains catch on as alternatives, or become the virtual equivalent of a modern house in a colonial neighborhood?"
This is a misuse of the phrase "beg the question." As the entry on the phrase in the Times's own stylebook states, "beg the question does not mean pose the issue or avoid the issue. To beg the question is to assume the truth of the proposition one is trying to prove."
Subscribe to the Mailing List
© 2017 FutureOfCapitalism LLC