Your Sunday Lead Story: Conservative Hypocrisy in Middle Class Minnesota

Sunday’s New York Times led with a 4,200 word-feature co-written by economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum and welfare reporter Robert Gebeloff reporting from middle class Chisago County, “Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It.

Reporter Matt Bai wrote on the paper's Caucus blog Monday that  “A bunch of my liberal friends applauded and sent around this piece, which seemed to validate their sense that the conservative argument about government dependency is specious -- that, in fact, the poor are getting a smaller share of government assistance than they used to, while middle-class voters who resent government are gobbling up more of it.” Although Bai saw some warning signs for the left in the story as well.

Appelbaum(pictured) and Robert Gebeloff uncovered the liberal idea of hypocrisy in Minnesota’s Chisago County:

Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

Blogger Tom Maguire wondered just when Medicare became part of the “safety net”: “Wait -- Medicare is now a "safety net" program? I thought that,like Social Security, it was an earned benefit -- we all paid our taxes, and we are all eligible.  Medicaid is means-tested; Medicare is not.”

Here’s the nut graph:

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.

That’s almost entirely do to the accelerating costs of Social Security and Medicare. While the Times in the past has been hostile to supposedly brutal “cuts” to Medicare, the problem is at least acknowledged, although the role of the Medicare-defending media's role in keeping the nation ignorant of the problem is unaddressed.

Medicare’s starring role in the nation’s financial problems is not well understood. Only 22 percent of respondents to the New York Times poll correctly identified Medicare as the fastest-growing benefits program. A greater number of respondents, 27 percent, chose programs for the poor. That category, which includes Medicaid, is slightly larger than Medicare today but is projected to add only half as much to federal spending over the next decade.

Medicare’s financial problems are much worse than Social Security’s. A worker earning average wages still pays enough in Social Security taxes to cover the benefits the worker is likely to receive in retirement, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute. Social Security is still running out of money because the program must also support spouses who do not work and workers who earn lower wages. But Medicare’s situation is even more dire because a worker earning average wages still contributes only $1 in Medicare taxes for every $3 in benefits likely to be received in retirement.

Appelbaum and Gebeloff conclude with a self-described conservative who is beginning to see the light:

Mr. Peterson, an easygoing man who looks down when he thinks and smiles sheepishly when he offers an opinion, looked down after completing the story of his own dependence on the safety net.

“It’s hard to beat up on the government when they’ve been so good to you,” he finally said. “I’ve never really thought about it, I guess.”


How about higher taxes?

Maybe a little higher, he said. Maybe.

“I’m glad I’m not a politician,” he said. “We’re all going to complain no matter what they do. Nobody wants to put a noose around their own neck.”