Reporting on Guv's Call for Eliminating Calif. 'Welfare-to-Work' Program, Press Again Ignores Bloated Caseload

CaliforniaBankrupt2009Today was a same-old, same-old day in California.

For the second year in a row, a state official has proposed eliminating the former Golden State's "welfare-to-work" program, which the rest of us know as "welfare," or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Last year, it was left to a spokesman for the state's Department of Finance to bring out the idea. This year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fronted it himself.

As has been the case for the almost four years I've been following the situation, the press once again universally failed to provide anything resembling context. If it did, people would understand that this is a story about a decade-long shocking level of theoretically well-intentioned waste (the cynical observation would be that the good intentions are tempered by the likelihood that dependent voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters).

The as up to date as possible context (through September 30 of last year for recipients and families, the latest available government data; some estimation was required because certain data fields are blank) is this:

  • Though California has roughly 12% of the nation's population, the state's 1.36 million TANF recipients as of September 30 of last year represented 32% of the nation's welfare caseload. That's up from 25% in March of 2006.
  • The percentage of Californians on welfare (roughly 3.75%, up from less than 3% in March 2006) was almost four times higher than that of the rest of the country (roughly 0.95%). In Illinois (of all places), the percentage of the population on welfare was 0.43% in September of last year.
  • Press reports today indicating that the welfare population is 1.4 million and that Schwarzenegger's proposal would affect "about 1 million children" indicate that the caseload has continued climbing out of control in the intervening months (where's the "to work" part of the equation?).
  • There still is no rational justification as to why the state's caseload is so out of whack. The bad economy doesn't explain it, because basket case Michigan's caseload is less than 2% of the population. It isn't immigration, because Arizona and Florida's welfare caseloads are under control.

(Programming note: Yours truly fully realizes there are other "welfare" programs. I plan to address them in the coming weeks, because they're exploding dangerously on a national scale.)

An evening dispatch by the Associated Press's Judy Lin and every other press report I located made no mention of the state's ridiculous caseload. Here are a few paragraphs from Lin's report:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday called for eliminating California's welfare-to-work program, one of the deep cuts he proposed to close a $19 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.

Slashing the welfare program would affect 1.4 million people, two-thirds of them children.

... Among the options Schwarzenegger presented is eliminating CalWORKS, the state's welfare-to-work program. The program provides a maximum $694 monthly cash assistance for families and helps single mothers with child care and job training.

Gina Jackson, a single mother who lives in Fremont in the San Francisco Bay area, said she would not be able finish her college degree in political and social science without the state's assistance. She currently receives about $1,000 a month to cover after-school care for two of her four children.

"I certainly can't take my kids to school with me every single day," said Jackson, 45, who was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant two years ago.

Other publications covering the welfare aspect of the Governor's announcement included these:

  • The Sacramento Bee, where a county official told the paper's reporters that, "It's the remake of 'Slum Dog Millionaire' in California."
  • The San Jose Mercury News where one finds Democrats still harping on eliminating "corporate tax breaks" as the solution.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle, where an opponent described the proposal as "an all-out scorched earth campaign."
  • The Los Angeles Times, which of course provided a provocative title ("Schwarzenegger's budget deals blows to the poor")

As noted, there was not a word about the bloated caseload anywhere.

It's long past time to stop considering this journalistic failure to provide meaningful context a mere oversight.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.