Over the weekend sports commentator turned political pundit Mike McFeely used his column to verbally assault TV station Valley News Live for their work on the refugee or “New Americans” story in the Fargo area.
While my position on VNL’s approach to journalism is well known – I’m not working with them any more because of it – McFeely refutes VNL with “facts.” Or, at least, one fact that he doesn’t seem to understand. And he left some stuff out too.
McFeely requested information for his column from Cass County Social Services. Curious, I asked that organization for the same information they gave McFeely (read it in full below), and it turns out that McFeely used one fact in his column without any context, and left another fact about welfare completely out of his column.
To the first point, McFeely claims that only about 15 percent of “New Americans” are enrolled in the food stamps program, which is the only solid statistical information he presents in his column.
An average of 5,377 households in the county receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits each month. That’s a monthly average of 12,186 individuals. Social Services says of those 5,377 households, 790 are headed by New Americans. That equals 1,790 people. That means less than 15 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits each month in Cass County are New Americans.
That’s true as far as it goes, but it warrants some context. Specifically, the New American population for Cass County.
It’s nowhere near 15 percent. According to numbers reported by Lutheran Social Services, they’ve brought in about 400 refugees to North Dakota per year since 1997, with about 70 percent settling in the Fargo/West Fargo. If we use those numbers as a rough estimate of the refugee population in Cass County we get about 5,320 people. According to the U.S. Census, the 2013 population of Cass County was about 162,829.
This would mean that the refugee population represents about 3.2 percent of the total population of Cass County, yet refugee households represent about 15 percent of the households receiving food stamps.
See the problem? This is what’s called an over representation. The New American population represents a much larger percentage of food stamps recipients than they do the overall population. Or exactly what critics of Lutheran Social Services – the “knuckle-draggers” as McFeely calls them – are talking about.
But there’s more information McFeely got from Cass County Social Services which he chose not to present in his column: More than one third of the TANF (welfare) rolls in Cass County are New American households.
Again, the New American population in Cass County is just over 3 percent, but fully one third of welfare recipients in Cass County are New Americans..
That’s a problem.
Now, McFeely and other apologists for Lutheran Social Services and the status quo would have us believe that critics touting these problems want to stop refugees from coming to North Dakota at all because they’re racists, etc., etc.
In the case of some critics, maybe that’s true.
But many critics – including this one – believe that the problem isn’t with the refugees but with Lutheran Social Services. Can we really say that group is doing a good job when so many of the refugees they settle in North Dakota end up dependent on social welfare programs?
I’d say, at the very least, there’s room for a lot of improvement. Unfortunately, we aren’t having a discussion about that, because Lutheran Social Services and its defenders like McFeely are too busy casting aspersions at critics to even acknowledge that there’s a problem.