Two days ago I fisked a false report from CNBC that said more than a third of all wages and salaries are now government handouts.

That kind of a report, based on a study by an outfit called TrimTabs Investment Research, is genetically engineered to go viral. I closed my post with this pessimistic note:

This one will presumably be bouncing around the message boards and chain emails for years.

And it will. But here’s a list of more prominent outlets that have spread this garbage just in the last two days:

CNN, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Dow Jones, Investors Business Daily, The Atlantic, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Michigan Live, WLS Chicago, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Mail, The Daily Caller, NewsMax,, Pajamas Media, Newser, TheStreet, The New American. And, of course, Fox News.

And it’s now in the Congressional Record, courtesy of Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida. God bless America.

For these folks, this story was too good to check.

Hard to imagine grumpy ol’ Jack Cafferty of CNN being credulous, but there he was on Wednesday spreading the falsehood:

Government social welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance made up 35% of all public and private wages and salaries last year.

Naturally, Cafferty didn’t credit quasi-competitor CNBC on this one and he flat accepted that folks on Social Security (who make up a disproportionate share of his viewership, I might note) are welfare recipients.

What did he get wrong? Read my original post for the full debunking, but here’s a synopsis: So-called personal current transfer receipts like Social Security payments, Medicare, and unemployment benefits are not included in the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s wages and salaries numbers, which totaled $6.4 trillion last year.

How’d they get that 35 percent handout number then? By erroneously dividing the $2.2 trillion of transfer receipts into wages and salaries. You can’t do that. They also included health care payments like Medicare and Medicaid in the numerator but didn’t include them in the wages and salaries denominator. That makes no sense, and it ought to be obvious to any halfway numerate person (which I’ll admit excludes many of my fellow journalists) that it doesn’t.

The study also excluded capital income. If you add all that together, the “handouts” percentage comes to 18 percent of personal income. But that’s only if you accept that things like Social Security and veterans disability payments are welfare. I don’t and neither do most people. All workers pay into Social Security and get money out according to how much they (or their immediate family member, in the case of a widow or orphan) have paid in. You don’t pay, you don’t get. That’s insurance, not welfare.

Take out Social Security and veterans benefits (which they earned, after all, serving our country) and you drop down to about 10 percent of personal income, and that 10 percent includes things like Medicare, which is also something of a social-insurance program with taxes taken out during working years explicitly to fund it. Here’s the BEA numbers. Look at them yourself:

Rush Limbaugh couldn’t even get the false report right, saying repeatedly that 35 percent of people live off handouts, when the report says falsely that 35 percent of wages and salaries are.

One-third of us don’t earn anything. One-third of us live totally on handouts.

The incredible thing about Limbaugh is that after ranting on and on about welfare laziness and handouts, he got two calls from conservatives on disability and Social Security and exempted them both from their inner conflicts over taking checks from the gubmint. Read Andrew Sullivan on that.

(Picking at Limbaugh for being wrong about facts could be a full-time job, but it’s worth noting the falsehoods here:

Yeah, and look at Europe. Are they a world power, a leader in anything? They have lost their countries. They’ve lost their borders. They’re losing their cultures. They have all these cradle-to-grave programs. They’ve got 14% unemployment. They’ve got rampant poverty. They’ve got people that cannot get treated for months in line for simple medical procedures.

Eurozone unemployment is 9.9 percent. Unemployment in “socialist” Germany is 7.3 percent. In the UK, it’s 7.9 percent. And check out this chart that shows the folks in Europe, like France, Germany, and the UK, who wait less for doctors than we do.)

The kooky Investors Business Daily put down the Ayn Rand long enough to type up an editorial leading off with this falsehood:

More than one-third of all wages and salaries in this country are actually government handouts. We should be alarmed that we’ve become a nation of dependents.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.