What is most obnoxious about the Welfare Queen myth is that it is traced directly back to Ronald Reagan, who was indulging in gleeful hyperbole to outrage his Republican base. It has probably done more than any other conservative talking point in living memory to encourage Americans to be cruel to their neediest neighbors, even when some of those Americans are receiving some form of government assistance themselves. Stupid Uncle Bonzo.
What Reagan actually said, according to Wikipedia:
“During his 1976 presidential campaign, Reagan would tell the story of a woman from Chicago’s South Side arrested for welfare fraud
: ”She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security
on her cards. She’s got Medicaid
, getting food stamps
, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
The real life inspiration, according to Wikipedia: ”In 1976, the New York Times reported that a woman from Chicago, Linda Taylor, was charged with using four aliases and of cheating the government out of $8,000. She appeared again in the newspaper while the Illinois Attorney General continued investigating her case. The woman was ultimately found guilty of “welfare fraud and perjury” in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.”
So one woman scammed the government out of a total of eight thousand dollars and got caught and sentenced. From this one woman’s situation, Reagan creatively invented multiple imaginary dead fake veteran husbands (not true), a six-figure “annual salary” ($8,000 is four digits and not enough to live on for a year), a dozen fake Social Security cards (not correct), 80 aliases (no) and 30 fake home addresses (also no) and so on…in short, he created the Welfare Queen stereotype by wildly exaggerating information about a real person who got caught doing something wrong and who was punished for her criminal act.
Right from the beginning, when Reagan first told the infamous Welfare Queen story, there wasn’t anyone who actually got away with welfare fraud in real life! One middle-aged woman inspired Reagan’s anecdote, and she got caught! She was punished! That fairy tale The Gipper told us has led to a lot of misery, most of it directed at the weakest members of our society: those who are the least capable of defending themselves. Are we a country of unkind assholes who lack compassion for our neighbors, now?