Why the New York Times drives me crazy – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise31st May 2019
The New York Times is an important newspaper and I am a regular reader, but sometimes it drives me a little crazy. Its latest analysis of the positive news that single mothers are working more left me exasperated.
The article turns the story of a strong economy and a properly functioning safety net lifting families out of poverty into a spooky story about a “fraying safety net.” That’s wrong. Single mothers entering the workforce is an unsurprising thing and a good thing, full stop. And our government-funded safety net is bigger than ever.
The Times is “surprised” that the share of single mothers in the workforce has increased by four percentage points in the past four years, even though this is precisely what mid-1990s welfare reform was designed to encourage, especially in good economic times. And the Times neglects to mention the most important outcomes of that reform: As employment among single mothers rose, family incomes increased, and child poverty decreased significantly, never again to return to pre-welfare reform levels.
Yes, the share on cash welfare dropped, as the Times notes. That’s primarily because more families were earning more income and climbing out of poverty. Seems like a good result to me.
But back to the present: My biggest gripe is the insistence that we should be suspicious of this new era of increasing work and declining poverty because it is partly driven by “a fraying federal safety net.”
With apologies to the Old Gray Lady — that’s absurd. More Americans than ever are enrolled in Medicaid, food stamp enrollment is still well above pre-recession levels (the average per-family benefit is higher too), and the Earned Income Tax Credit provides more support than ever for working parents.
Does the expansion to the refundable Child Tax Credit, passed as part of 2017 tax reform, count as support for low-income mothers of children? It seems like it should. Yet it is not mentioned in this article. The big increase to the child care grant for the poor that was passed last year (under Trump!) is mentioned but with the tone of the Wizard referring to ‘the man behind the curtain.’
These are just a few examples among the dozens of programs designed to help low-income families, including these single mothers and their children, some of which require work while others do not. The value of the federal cash welfare block grant may be declining, but the claim that the safety net is “fraying” is preposterous.
The related fear that instituting work requirements leaves many single mothers “without jobs or federal aid” is equally misplaced. There is significant federal aid even for those who do not work — Medicaid being the prime example. And jobs are clearly available, as this very article attests. (There is also significant evidence that many welfare recipients work without reporting their income, which would leave them appearing “disconnected” but actually earning for their families.)
Meanwhile, most serious scholars have dismissed the phony assertion that deep poverty among children has gone up — in fact, there is greater evidence that it is at its lowest level ever.
Most of what was left out of the coverage of this issue would have been included had the Times bothered to talk to even one non-progressive expert. But of the no fewer than seven sources cited for evidence in the article not one could be characterized as even remotely right of center.
For now and the foreseeable future, the combination of our safety net and hot economy is working, by raising incomes and improving family well-being. The Times appears to be so focused on denigrating any positive news in the time of Trump that it can’t see what’s right in front them: Child poverty in America is at its lowest point — ever.