We’ve all heard the stereotypes about people who receive welfare. They’re lazy. They refuse to work and have more kids just to collect more money. In our mind’s eye, they are most often people of color. Once they’re on welfare, they stay on it, because why would you choose to work when you can get free money every month?
Politicians traffic in these stereotypes too, which means they play an active role in influencing government policy. During the 2015‒16 Republican primary, the problem of an increasingly expensive welfare state was commonly cited by the candidates. In one debate, then Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal said, “We are on the path to socialism right now. We’ve got record dependents, a record number of Americans on food stamps, record low participation rate in the work force.”
President Trump has regularly claimed that reliance on welfare is “out of control” and even wrote about it in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough. In this book, he stated, without evidence, that recipients of TANF, popularly known as food stamps, “have been on the dole for nearly a decade,” and suggested that widespread fraud in this and other government assistance programs was a significant problem.
Fortunately, the reality of who and how many people receive welfare and other forms of assistance and the circumstances of their participation in these programs is well-documented in factual data collected and analyzed by the U.S. Census Bureau and other independent research organizations. So, let’s get down to those non-alternative facts.