By Mary deWolf
The Discovery Channel’s popular program, MythBusters, is amusing. It’s often fun to find our perceived notions proven wrong. If you get hit by a penny dropped from the Empire State building, it won’t kill you. It’s not big or dense enough — despite the long drop.
If you insist on eating food off the floor, fine, but don’t assume that if it’s been there less than five seconds that’s OK. But, those zany MythBusters discovered that it collects the same amount of filth whether it’s there for seconds or minutes. Myths in our political/social lives can be just as unhealthy.
A majority of poor children in the United States are in single mother–headed families. Many Republicans still cling to the Reagan myth that the typical single mother is a “welfare queen” purposely reaping generous “government handouts,” while she drives her “strapping young bucks” around in a “Cadillac” to get “T-bone steaks.”
In reality, almost 50 percent of all kids live at least part of their lives with a single mother. The largest category of single moms is white. Typically, a single mother has only one or two kids, is separated or divorced and works full or part-time. The overwhelming majority of these have earned a high school diploma, and 25 percent have a college degree.
Forty percent of families headed by single moms are poor―defined as earning less than about $17,300 annually for a family of three. This is far more than in comparable countries. Only 10 percent of these struggling families receive cash welfare assistance. arch proves that poverty among children does long term damage to them, affecting adult productivity and health — and ultimately hurts all of us.
The largest group of recipients of SNAP (food stamps) is made up of white children. Another large hunk goes to disabled or senior citizens. Among recipients that are work-able, the overwhelming majority work full or part time. Most of these families receive benefits for no more than 6 months.
Tea party darling Rand Paul is not a “mythbuster,” but a myth maker. He recently claimed that black unemployment in America is double white unemployment and that it hasn’t improved under President Obama. Sadly he’s right about the double unemployment rate — it’s stayed the same for several decades. But he’s seriously wrong about the president.
The ratio of black to white unemployment is lower under President Obama at 2:1, than when Reagan was in office, at 2.6:1, at the same point in his second term. The ratio under Bush II was 2.5:1 and 2.4:1 during President Clinton’s term — all worse than with President Obama.
Paul is also wrong about the lack of improvement in black unemployment during President Obama’s administration. The unemployment rate for blacks dropped to 12.5 percent in November, which is lower than it was under Reagan (15.6 percent) and lower than the 12.7 percent rate when President Obama took office. In fact, Reagan’s administration saw the black unemployment rate increase a full percentage point from 1981 to 1985, even while the white unemployment rate dropped.
Folks on the right perpetuate myths about poverty, unemployment, and our current president in hopes of defunding and discrediting programs that help the less fortunate. It’s also an attempt by the right to turn our attention away from the brutal economic conditions brought on by their beloved corporate friends.
American businessman Harold S. Green admonished, “We must not be hampered by yesterday's myths in concentrating on today's needs.” Stop believing these lies about poverty and economic unfairness. And stop eating food off the floor.