Why I Don't Hate Why Americans Hate Welfare
By Bryan Caplan
I suspect a lot of my friends would hate Martin Gilens‘ Why Americans Hate Welfare. Gilens takes a stab at the question: Why doesn’t the United States have a European-style welfare state? And his answer, to put it crudely, is racism. But unlike most people who feel this way, he has some data to back up his allegation. A few highlights:
1. Agreement with the view that “blacks are lazy” is a strong predictor of support for cutting welfare. About 35% of people who strongly believe that blacks are very hard-working want to cut welfare; about 65% who strongly believe the opposite want to cut welfare.
2. People who over-estimate the percentage of welfare recipients who are black are substantially more opposed to welfare. 64% of people who (wrongly) believe that most welfare recipients are black think that most people on welfare do not “really need it”; 50% of people who (correctly) believe that most welfare recipients are not black think the same.
3. States where a higher percentage of the poor are black spend less on welfare, controlling for income and education. One study estimated that if all the poor were white, AFDC benefits would be $2000 more per year than if all the poor were black.
I find these results fairly plausible. But as a firm believer in the view that no one deserves welfare, I am unperturbed. (Unlike Arnold Kling, I am no Bleeding-Heart Libertarian). Poor Americans of all races ought to emulate immigrants – take low-skilled jobs and try to work their way up. Instead of comparing themselves to native-born Americans who earn more than they do, the American poor should compare themselves to unskilled workers who weren’t born here. At least the American poor don’t have to learn a new language and leave their homes in order to move up in the world.
Incidentally, I strongly suspect that Gilens’ results would generalize to immigrants. If Americans think immigrants get a lot of the benefits of welfare, they won’t want to spend as much. As a defender of immigration and an opponent of welfare, I call that a happy coincidence.