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Bill O'Reilly Distorts Poverty Figures - Claims Things Better under Bush

Reported by Marie Therese - September 14, 2005

"America and the Poor" was the topic of last night's Talking Points Memo. Had Bill O'Reilly been made of wood, his nose would have grown through the screen!

After acknowledging that a staggering 37 million people live below the poverty line in this country, the Bloviating Billster quoted Newsweek columnist Evan Thomas, who wrote: "Liberals will say [the authorities] were indifferent to the plight of African-Americans. It is true that Katrina laid bare society's massive neglect of its least fortunate."

O'REILLY: "Massive neglect? Let's take a look at that bit of overstatement. Halfway through President Clinton's tenure in office, the poverty rate was 13.7%. Halfway through President Bush's tenure the rate is 12.7, a full point lower."

[COMMENT According to statistics obtained from the U. S. Census site, when Bill Clinton began his term as President in 1993, the poverty rate was 15.1%. By the time Clinton left office the poverty rate was 11.7%. By 2002, under George Bush the rate began to rise again to 12.1% in 2002, 12.5% in 2003 and 12.7% in 2004.

According to the Christian Science Monitor this most recent increase was unforeseen by analysts who "expected the number to drop along with unemployment" and may indicate a disturbing trend. While the poverty level for Asians declined and it remained stable for Hispanics and African-Americans, the only group that saw an increase was non-Hispanic white Americans living in the midwest. In other words there are 1.1 million poorer red state residents this year than there were last year.]

O'REILLY: "In 1996 the Clinton budget allotted $191 billion for poverty entitlements. That was 12.2% of the budget. ... However, the Bush 2006 budget allots a record-shattering $368 billion for poverty entitlements - 14.6% of the entire budget - a huge increase over Clinton's spending. Did the elite media mention that? Jesse Jackson mention that? Of course they didn't. Because it's much more convenient for Evan Thomas and others to imply that America under President Bush has turned its back on the poor. But it's absolute nonsense. Even in the midst of the war on terror [Note: Did he mean the war of choice in Iraq?], this country is spending a massive amount of money tryin' to help the poor. So why the lie? Because political gain can be made off the suffering of others, that's why. Those who oppose the Bush administration don't care about the truth. They only want to advance their own agenda, so once again the No-Spin zone rides to the rescue.

"Hard-working Americans are providing the poor with Medicaid, food stamps, supplemental security income - that's free money - child nutrition programs, welfare payments, child daycare payments, temporary assistance to needy families, foster care, adoption assistance and health insurance for children. But, it will never be enough for the Jesse Jacksons and Howard Deans of the world. Never! If they told you the truth, they'd go out of business.

"Now, I fully expect to be attacked by the far-left media for tellin' you all this. I'm sure they'll label me a racist, a shill for Bush, stuff like that. But, I don't care. The dollars don't lie. We are a generous nation. And that is the truth."


Most of the poor in this country WORK, many of them hold down two and three jobs. If you want to read a damning book on this topic, I suggest you get Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America." Ms. Ehrenreich went "underground" and worked at minimum wage jobs for a year. She discovered a few unpleasant facts about life on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Self-satisfied, replete, rich men like Bill O'Reilly sit in their posh offices and scare "hard-working" Americans into believing that their taxes go to indigent scofflaws who sit at home guzzling beer, smoking pot, eating chips and watching TV. Those of us closer to homelessness know this is not the case.

When he mentioned that SSI (social security supplemental income) is free money, he neglected to say that it is money that goes to disabled Americans or that providing health coverage for children reduces trips to the emergency room!

Sometimes I wonder how many poor people Mr. O'Reilly actually knows or has associated with on a long-term basis? For the past 15 years I've been involved in a local program that offers music scholarship to needy families. In that time I've taught 7 different children from 7 different poverty situations and I came to know the families personally. Most of the adults in the family work really hard. Sometimes the kids worked, too, after school. Some had parents trying to break a drug habit (yes, they held down a job) or schizophrenic parents (who were incapable of working) or an abusive parent (who worked, then took it out on the family), but most were blessed with caring parents who were doing the best to provide for their children against almost impossible odds.

So when I hear guys like O'Reilly spout their simplistic tripe implying that the poor are sucking the lifeblood out of "hard-working" Americans, I see red.

Also, I don't trust O'Reilly's numbers on "entitlement" programs simply because he never once used the words "inflation-adjusted dollars." If he was simply quoting raw numbers, I'd like to remind him that 15 years ago the dollar went farther. Additionally, he did not indicate through graphics or verbally whether or not there was parity between the two budgets, i.e., was he citing figures that included exactly the same programs in both figures?

Given O'Reilly's dubious track record, one cannot accept his statements without independent verification.

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