Myth: There are Welfare Queens driving Welfare Cadillacs. 
Fact: Reagan made up this story. 
Reagan's story of a Welfare Queen driving a Welfare Cadillac was  
apocryphal. Even so, there is no evidence that welfare cheating is a 
problem; besides, individual welfare payments are too small for recipients to  
live well. 
Conservative politicians have a talent for telling memorable anecdotes that 
 capture the essence of their beliefs on any particular issue. One of the 
most  enduring of these came from Ronald Reagan on the subject of welfare. He 
cited a  Chicago "Welfare Queen" who had ripped off $150,000 from the 
government, using  80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and 
four fictional dead  husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully 
promised to roll back  welfare; and ever since, the "Welfare Queen" driving her 
"Welfare Cadillac" has  become permanently lodged in American political 
Unfortunately, like most great conservative anecdotes, it wasn't really  
true. The media searched for this welfare cheat in the hopes of interviewing  
her, and discovered that she didn't even exist. 
As a bit of class warfare, however, it was brilliant. It diverted public  
attention from insider traders in their limousines to Welfare Queens in their 
 Cadillacs, even though the former were stealing thousands of times more 
from the  American people than the latter. Just one example of the cost of 
white collar  crime would become apparent a few years later, when President 
Bush bailed out  the Savings & Loans industry with $500 billion of the 
taxpayer's money --  enough to fund 20 years of federal AFDC. 
Questions of class warfare aside, there is no evidence that there is a  
significant problem with welfare cheating. In 1991 less than 5 percent of all  
welfare benefits went to persons who were not entitled to them, and this 
figure  includes errors committed by the welfare agency. (1) 
Nor are people getting rich off welfare. The two largest welfare programs  
are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and food stamps. In 1992, 
the  average yearly AFDC family payment was $4,572, and food stamps for a 
family of  three averaged $2,469, for a total of $7,041. (2) In that year, 
the poverty  level for a mother with two children was $11,186. (3) Thus, these 
two programs  paid only 63 percent of the poverty level, and 74 percent of 
a minimum wage job.  There are other welfare programs, of course, but they 
either pay a minuscule  fraction of these two programs, or, if larger, are 
collected by only a small  percentage of welfare recipients. The typical 
welfare recipient remains among  the poorest members of society.
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