Frying pan into the fire for Rick Santorum?
Santorum is getting heat for making what some are saying is a racial assumption about people who receive government assistance.
Here’s the quote in question, uttered Sunday at a campaign stop in Sioux City, IA. In reference to entitlement reform, it sounded like Santorum said: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” (video) He stumbles a little on the word “black.”
The issue critics are pointing out hasn’t anything to do with getting people off public assistance; it’s that he singled out black people, as if they’re the primary recipients. No one in the audience had mentioned race until Santorum did. So why did Santorum say, “black people”?
Out came the charges of racism and bigotry, from the NAACP, the Urban League, and of course, liberal bloggers.
Some are only quoting half the statement (“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money”), which changes the context when you don’t include the second half (that they have the opportunity to earn their own money).
But Santorum only made things worse when he denied saying he used the word “black.”
At first, he responded by saying that he’d recently watched the documentary “Waiting For Superman,” which he characterized as “about black children,” and that perhaps the quote was in reference to the film (but the documentary looks at children and families of several races).
But on CNN (and also Fox) he had a different explanation, saying he was tongue-tied and that people misheard the word “black” when he stumbled on whatever it was he said (which sounded like “black”). “I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black.” He added that he uses the term “African-American’ more than the term “black,” and that “if you look at my record…” it shows what a great guy he’s been towards the black community.
It’s a familiar script so naturally, people are skeptical, and even hostile, usually depending on which way their politics blows.
Welcome to the frontrunners’ club, Santorum.
So who is on welfare anyway?
It’s not as easy a question as it sounds. CBS News looked into the racial distribution of food stamps in Iowa, and found that nine percent of recipients are black, while 84 percent are white. Others have pointed out that nationally, whites receive a larger portion of public assistance.
But to say more whites are on welfare than blacks, or that whites get a greater share of public welfare dollars than blacks is misleading since the majority of the population is white –both in Iowa and nationally. (Blacks account for only 12 percent of the U-S population, and only 2.9 percent of the population in Iowa, according to the 2010 Census.)
And then you have to look at the types of public assistance: Food stamps, welfare checks, subsidies for housing assistance, school lunch programs, Medicaid, and so on. And then you have state supplements along with federal dollars.
The federal government defines welfare as all entitlement programs funded through taxes, so does that make Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and veterans benefits welfare benefits? And then you have to account for the recession, which put millions on federal assistance, as the number of welfare recipients in American suburbia skyrocketed. It starts getting complicated.
But take Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) as one measurement. TANF was created in 1996 to replace the old welfare programs of before. It primarily provides cash assistance to low-income families with children. It operates under the Department of Health and Human Services. According to TANF, nearly 30 million people, around eight percent of the U-S population, are getting benefits. Of that 30 million:
–39 percent are white (11,661,000)
–38 percent are black (11,362,000)
–17 percent are Latino (5,083,000)
So what did Rick Santorum really say, and what do some of these numbers tell us that some may not want to acknowledge from a purely statistical standpoint? Does it affirm a particular stereotype for some people? Who are those people? Will they even admit it? And does it even matter since it’s a pretty good bet most people aren’t going to change their minds about any of this anyway? Sadly, the ambiguity of it all makes this the perfect situation in which you can project whatever you want to believe onto it.