I’m a contractor and so I don’t pay unemployment insurance and neither do my employers. Guess what? If I fall out of work, I don’t get unemployment benefits. That doesn’t sound like a welfare program to me, either. It sounds like insurance. (Now you could argue that the unemployment benefits extension passed to help folks through this recession is a form of welfare, but I’m guessing CNBC’s study doesn’t make any such distinction. I don’t know because it didn’t publish the data for us to see ourselves.) Moreover, at least 2 percent of those government “handouts” in the $2.2 trillion number are veterans’ benefits.


So CNBC’s welfare and “handouts” number, by any normal standard, is actually far, far lower than even that 18 percent I calculated three paragraphs up, much less its 35 percent number. If you exclude Social Security and veterans’ benefits, as you should, we’re creeping down toward 10 percent.

But too late, this one’s already hit the echo chamber. Here’s Ben Shapiro of Town Hall:

This week, CNBC reported that social welfare payments now comprise 35 percent of wages and salaries this year. In other words, more than a third of all people receiving “paychecks” are receiving government redistribution checks via welfare, Social Security, Medicare or unemployment.

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

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 rc2538@columbia.edu.