The White House lies about Latinos and Social Security.

Science, technology, and life.
March 24 2005 4:03 PM

Se Habla B.S.?

The White House lies about Latinos and Social Security.

Last week, I faulted the White House for leading the press and public to believe, falsely, that Latinos tend to die younger than whites do. This myth helps to sell President Bush's Social Security reform proposal to Latinos, since it implies that they collect Social Security for fewer years, on average, than whites do. To debunk the myth, I pointed to a U.S. Census report showing that Latinos outlive whites by an average of three years.

Has the administration changed its language since I flagged the error? Yes. The White House no longer obliquely implies that Latinos die younger than whites do. It now repeats that falsehood explicitly.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Let's recap the original transgression. In a meeting three months ago, Bush led outgoing NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to believe (according to a transcript of Mfume's comments afterward) that Latinos and blacks, "because of low life expectancy rates, don't get a chance to get out much of what they put in" to Social Security. Mfume's comments, in turn, led some newspapers to report that Latinos "have lower-than-average life expectancy rates and, as a result, don't draw retirement benefits commensurate with what they pay in payroll taxes over the course of their working lives."

Well, maybe Mfume misunderstood Bush. Mfume said Bush referred to lower life expectancy among "some communities." I've asked Mfume's office for more detail; he hasn't called back. I can't imagine what other "communities" Bush might be talking about, since the Census report shows that all other ethnic groups whose life expectancies are measured by the government live at least as long as whites do. But I can't prove that Bush referred explicitly to Latinos or that he'd been fairly warned that such a reference would be false.

Cheney has neither excuse. Two days ago at a "town hall" meeting in Nevada, the vice president declared, "Life expectancy, for example, among African Americans and Hispanics is less than it is for others. They get a worse return, if you will, out of Social Security than others because they don't live long enough to draw the benefits that was equal what they've paid into the system over time. So it is an important consideration."

Has the press alerted readers to the falsehood of Cheney's claim? Far from it. Today's Wall Street Journal reports, "For African-Americans … [Republicans] argue that personal accounts offer a better deal; blacks' shorter life expectancy, the argument goes, means they collect traditional Social Security benefits for a shorter period and thus would help their families more with personal accounts they could leave to heirs. They argue that Hispanics would benefit for the same reason …" The Journal leaves the impression that while short life expectancy among Latinos may or may not be a good reason to support personal accounts, it's a fact.

Well, it isn't. And the press should stop passing it along without checking it. And the White House should stop lying about it.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:09 PM Vince Vaughn Will Star in True Detective Season 2
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.