During an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) compared social programs like Social Security to slavery, arguing that President Obama’s failed economic policies are creating a culture of “dependence” that is causing people who lose their unemployment benefits to enroll in the Social Security program:
HOST: The number of people going on Social Security disability out-paced the jobs created by the economy in the the month of June, that is a trend we have seen increase, and holding steady since ’09. Do you have a theory as to why that is happening? Is that something the federal government is creating or an unfortunate consequence of our economy?
WEST: That is an unfortunate consequence of failing economic policies coming from the president so that now when people are running out of the unemployment benefits, now they are looking toward going on Social Security disability… so once again we are creating the sense of economic dependence, which to me is a form of modern, 21st century slavery.
West’s comparison is not only dismissive of the 12.3 million people in forced labor around the globe — including many sweatshop workers held illegally and paid very little, girls and women forced into prostitution, and many others — but it is also wrong on the facts.
More than 8.1 million Americans received SSI in January 2012, and nearly 1.3 million of the recipients were children. SSI’s support is modest — the average monthly payment in January was $517 — but important. A 2005 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that SSI lifted 2.4 million Americans above the poverty line in 2003 and is a crucial safety net that is keeping families afloat.