An Elementary Lesson In Statistics Might Be In Order for All Sun-Times Reporters

Walsh spreading ‘old and tired’ stereotype

BY MARY MITCHELL

marym@suntimes.com

Last Modified: Jun 3, 2012 02:42AM
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh’s put-down of black people is insulting.

Last week, Walsh told crowds of supporters that the Democratic Party’s “game” is to make Latinos dependent on government just like “they got African Americans dependent upon government.”

I understand Walsh is desperate to get re-elected and Tammy Duckworth is a formidable candidate, but what the heck?

In spreading this racist stereotype, Walsh is sucking up to bigots. Besides being beneath the dignity of his office, his remarks expose a campaign strategy that is old and tired.

During Rick Santorum’s failed bid to become the GOP’s presidential candidate, he grabbed media attention by telling a mostly white crowd in Iowa that he “doesn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

He also accused politicians in the state where President Barack Obama got his critical boost during the 2008 campaign, of “pushing harder” to get more [people] dependent on government assistance programs like Medicaid so they [pols] could get their vote.

Like Santorum, Walsh is dubbed a Tea Party favorite. So I get why he is denouncing the expansion of government programs.

But Newt “the Bombastic” Gingrich used the same playbook. While campaigning in New Hampshire, he told the crowd that he would go to the “NAACP convention and explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”

None of these men had to trash black people to make their case against big government. In fact, they could have substituted whites for African Americans because it’s been shown time and time again that the so-called “Welfare Queen” is a fallacy.

According to the latest research, more whites than blacks are beneficiaries of government assistance programs. Santorum’s misguided rant resulted in a flurry of commentary on this subject.

For instance, The Washington Post’s often quoted online publication, “The Root,” reported that poor and middle-class white Americans receive the vast majority of tax-funded government assistance programs, including monthly assistance, Social Security and food stamps.

“Nearly 70 percent of all benefits of these programs go to white people. In fact, since African Americans have lower life expectancy, many work and pay into the Social Security and Medicare programs through their tax dollars, only to have white Americans, who have a longer lie expectancy, benefit from the income they’ve left behind,” The Root reported.

I’m offended by Walsh’s remarks because he is pandering to voters who believe black people, as a whole, want handouts.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Of course there are trifling’ black people just like there are trifling’ white people, and trifling Hispanics, and trifling Asians.

But nearly a generation of young black males is buried in graves and rotting in prisons because they couldn’t navigate the roadblocks that still exist for blacks in this country.

Many of these men were raised in impoverished communities with limited opportunities. In many instances, these young men chose working in the drug trade over signing up for food stamps.

Contrary to what Walsh says, the majority of black people want to work just like any other racial group. Yet in too many cases, they still have to knock down barriers just to earn an honest buck.

That’s why U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) is threatening to shut down a planned $133 million Metra project in the Englewood area if black contractors don’t get a fair share of this construction project.

And that’s why Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, warned Metra’s executive director that “people” are going to “get hurt” if there is inadequate minority participation on the project.

If blacks are dependent on anything, they are dependent on government protecting them from people like Walsh.

– from the Chicago Sun-Times, June 3, 2012

Dear Mary Mitchell,

I can understand that you probably went to school to study journalism or maybe English literature and so your grasp of statistics and basic numeracy isn’t great, but you really should sit down with someone who understands the basics before you wade into this kind of debate or you’ll just embarass yourself. Let me explain something to you — America’s population is made up of mostly white people (meaning those who are mostly descendents of Europeans). About 63.7% according to La Wik. Black people (meaning those who are mostly descendents of West Africans) are about 12.6% of the population. What does this mean in relationship to your goofy column? It means that a small percentage of white people, relative to the white population, might be getting government assistance because they are poor while a large percentage of the black population might be getting government assistance because they are poor; and yet, at the same time more white people will be getting government assistance than black people. Can you wrap your journalistic brain around this concept?

Let me illustrate my point with some real facts concerning current levels of welfare usage in the U.S. (known as the TANF program). In this table we see that out of a total of 1,629,345 families (actually single mothers with children, as they are the ‘families’ eligible for the program) receiving TANF, 34.2% are black. If families are roughly proportional in distribution to total population, then we would expect to see only 12.6% of the black families receiving TANF — instead almost 3 times as many receive welfare benefits as we would expect relative to their proportion of the population. And with whites at 31.5% of all TANF families, they are receiving welfare benefits at just under half the level we would expect relative to their population. So Representative Walsh’s statement that “African Americans [are] dependent on government” is actually factually based when we focus our attention just on welfare payments.

Also, it is just silly to include Medicare and Social Security in an analysis of “being dependent on government”. Why? Because we contribute to those programs; yes many of us get more in benefits than we put in, but that is a separate problem and I’m sure Representative Walsh would be open to a discussion about means-testing those programs.

As for the rest of your rambling column, of course you provide no evidence whatsoever that there is discrimination against black contractors on the Metra project or that some magical number of black contractors has to participate in every large construction project on the South Side or that project serves as prima facie evidence that black people “have to knock down barriers just to earn an honest buck.” Only in the minds of statistically challenged journalists and racial hustlers like Representative Rush do the simple facts of black life get blamed on their white neighbors.

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