Bachmann misses the mark

Minnesota’s 6th District representative, Michele Bachmann, has had her fair share of time in the limelight, including regularly staking claims with very little evidence to back up her words. Recently, she made headlines when referring to the Affordable Care Act, specifically how it will “literally kill” certain groups of people. Personally, I feel that after more than 30 attempts from the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the doom and gloom tactic has been a bit done to death (pun intended).

Instead, I want to focus on one of her more recent claims that hasn’t been making headlines. A few weeks ago, Bachmann appeared on the national radio show hosted by local conservative host Jason Lewis. On the show, she made an egregious claim about the many Americans currently receiving benefits through our welfare system. The congresswoman cited statistics that the average household on welfare receives more than $30 per hour in untaxed government assistance compared to the $25 per hour that the average American family takes in.

After hearing this, I thought this couldn’t possibly be true and decided to do some research. I was able to quickly find that Bachmann’s numbers had been cited frequently on various Tea Party-themed websites, but it took a little longer to find the data source and a breakdown of the data. To her credit, I discovered the numbers are, for the most part, correct, however, the methods by which they were created and the points they are used for are incredibly misleading.

The data Bachmann cited comes from a chart put together by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama. The chart suggests that “total welfare spending equates to $168 per day for every household in poverty — if converted to cash payments, hourly rate exceeds median income by 20 percent.”

What the simple chart and explanation fail to mention are the factors that went into creating these figures. First off, 50 percent of the funding the graph cites on the welfare side accounts for health care spending — mostly Medicaid — which is different from the general notion of welfare spending in that it doesn’t contribute to a family’s income level but instead provides help for paying medical bills. That being said, health care spending is not included in the census data that Sessions used to calculate the average median income on the other side of the graph, thus the comparison is essentially comparing apples to oranges.

The rest of the graph presents countless unfair comparisons as well. The welfare spending side is meant to represent “direct or indirect financial support.” It appears that Bachmann and others don’t quite understand when reading this graph what Sessions refers to as “indirect support.” This phrase is carefully used to include government spending for programs aimed at natural disaster aid and job training, education grants, funding for AmeriCorps, assistance for rural communities upgrading their water systems and other community-based initiatives that do not fit the traditional notion of welfare spending.

Ultimately, to complete his calculations, Sessions adds all of these means-tested programs, which are aimed at low-income people, and divides the number by the amount of people under the poverty level. The problem with this math is that nearly all of the programs provide aid to millions of Americans above the poverty level as well as below. This calculation alone misleadingly skews the graph in the direction that Sessions, Bachmann and their supporters would like to see.

I am disappointed in Bachmann for following suit behind Sessions without doing the necessary digging or simply choosing to ignore the facts. However, I am also well aware that skewed and lazy data such as this makes its way into political discourse all too frequently, which is why I strongly encourage everyone to check sources and pick apart the claims of their politicians and interest groups — no matter which political party you identify with. I chose this one as it demonstrates the ignorance and lack of leadership of one of Minnesota’s representatives. It also illustrates the strong disconnect that many of our elected officials have with the poorest among us. It is this kind of leadership and rhetoric that allows the poor to become disenfranchised from society and ultimately wind up lost in the system.

No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, in order to enact worthwhile reforms and a truly better society, the last thing we want to do is vilify those among us who need the most help.