Newt Gingrich is the latest rich white man to latch onto the fallacy of The Welfare Queen, telling people that “The African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” Unfortunately for Newt, the figures just don’t back up his rhetoric. Of the 46 million Americans living in poverty in 2010, according the U.S. Census, 31 million were white. 49 million Americans live without health insurance, and 37 million of those people are white.
In 2009, The New York Times published a series of articles showing that poor whites in the Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the Midwest, deep South and Texas borderlands were the highest percentage of Americans relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. At the time of the article, approximately 36 million Americans were receiving food stamps, and more than 24 million of them were white.
Newt Gingrich has taken this incendiary and racist rhetoric up a notch during his presidential campaign. Mr. Gingrich, who abhors unions and it would seem, poor children, has stated that in HIS world, inner city youth (which is code for black and brown skinned) have no idea what honest money looks like. He claims that these children only know money earned from criminal activity, because that’s what they see every day. So, Newt Gingrich wants to put the poor minority children to work. As janitors.
Mr. Gingrich bellows about the “obscene salaries” earned by New York City janitors working for the public school system. He makes no distinction between a janitor who started his job 4 weeks ago and a janitorial supervisor, on the job for 30 years, who oversees possibly hundreds of other custodial workers. I wanted to see what the average salary for a custodial engineer working for the New York public school system is, and I found that information in an article published by New York Magazine.
Stephen Williams, who is a custodial engineer for Park East High School makes
$46,000 a year. Let’s compare that to two other salaries mentioned in the article: Jennifer, who asked that her last name be withheld, makes $350,000/year as a 1st year broker. Gisele Bundchen, supermodel, makes $15.2 million/year. I wonder which of these three can afford a 2 bedroom apartment anywhere in New York? Since the average rental price for a 2 bedroom apartment in Manhattan is $4,000/month, Stephen probably isn’t living on the island. Maybe he lives in Brooklyn, where the average 1 bedroom apartment rents for $2,229/month. Or he could try the Bronx or Queens; 2 bedroom apartments rent for about $1,800-$2,000/month.
Newt Gingrich’s net worth is $6.7 million, according to his campaign. This is a man who took a private luxury cruise of Greece, had a revolving charge account with Tiffany’s and who has admitted that he did not grow up poor. Newt Gingrich is rich, by any standards, yet he presumes to quote statistics that do not reflect the true nature of American poverty. He tells black Americans they should “demand paychecks” when the truth is, it’s whites who are living in poverty, and receiving federal aid at a much higher rate than any group of minorities. When will we hear Newt Gingrich down in Texas, telling a bunch of white men to “demand paychecks” and that their kids need to clean toilets? My guess is never.
Ronald Reagan started this myth in the 1970’s, and Newt Gingrich keeps feeding and stroking it, making sure his white supporters understand who’s really responsible for all this: the blacks. The black president, his black family, black Americans who bilk the system out of millions of dollars every day. It’s all bullshit, you understand, but the right doesn’t care. Newt Gingrich isn’t interested in facts, and he doesn’t have to be; he knows the only way to get the nomination is by dividing this country even more.
Newt Gingrich knows that by calling President Obama the food stamp president, all his white supporters will hear the dog whistle. That message is very simple: black president giving black people your tax dollars, white president would take tax dollars from black people and give it back to…well, not poor white folks, that’s for damn sure. But they’ll vote for Newt anyway, because they only hear the dog whistle. Get out that mop.
Thanks to The Root.com, The New York Times, NY Magazine and The L.A. Times for contributions to this article.