Here's the deal. If you grew up in certain white neighborhoods in Milwaukee during the 1970s and 1980s you would encounter white people who said bad things about black people. One of the things they would say is that blacks just moved up here for welfare. They didn't have any evidence, mind you, it was just obvious.
But when Tommy Thompson first ran for governor he turned this racist urban legend into part of his platform.
Charlie Sykes, whose audience consists of not a few white flighters, has in the past raised the "welfare magnet" line. I cited this as an indicator he'll engage in race baiting and dog whistles in an exchange with Rick Esenberg at Shark and Shepherd.
There is ample evidence of folks moving up to Wisconsin for higher benefits. Read Jason DeParle's book The American Dream.
Instead I'll refer to what actual surveys demonstrated at the time: that higher benefits was not a leading cause for people moving to Wisconsin (as I noted nearly three years ago).
From the 2/5/89 Los Angeles Times:
But is it the welfare money that is drawing people north?
A study commissioned by the state three years ago concluded that, by and large, the answer was "no." Paul Voss, a University of Wisconsin demographer who authored the report, said interviews with thousands of newly arrived welfare recipients found that the overwhelming reasons most gave for moving were to be near family and friends. "Lowering welfare benefits is not going to make much of a dent in the flood of migrants," Voss predicted.
However, a recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a Milwaukee-based conservative think tank, hints that the answer may be "yes." According to the report, which analyzed three years of residency data for welfare applicants, newcomers accounted for 29% of all newly opened AFDC cases statewide and 43% of all the new cases in the Milwaukee area and other counties close to Illinois.
John Wahner, one of the authors, cautioned that his report made no attempt to conclude why welfare recipients were flocking here. Still, Wahner, a former Democratic leader in the state Assembly and until recently head of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, said the study raised "disturbing" questions.
Or take a study done by Maximus, which found that benefits ranked low on the list (though the right claimed it as vindicating its case!). Fomr the 5/23/95 Chicago Tribune:
The study, by the Virginia-based Maximus consulting firm, found that 29 percent of respondents from Chicago cited higher welfare benefits in their decision to move to Wisconsin. Twenty-one percent said better Medicaid benefits were a factor.
Forty-six percent who moved to Wisconsin said they already had family members there. And a little over half of that 46 percent said those Wisconsin family members were on welfare.
"If the family member (in Wisconsin) is on welfare, chances are there will be some communications going on (with the person considering a move) to the effect that welfare is a factor," said Phil Richardson, a principal investigator at Maximus.
But the study's other findings supported contentions that welfare is not Wisconsin's main attraction for poor people. Far larger percentages of those surveyed cited less crime (64 percent), better schools (57.8 percent), job opportunities (44.1 percent) and getting away from a bad home situation (43.5 percent) as the key factor in moving.
"It doesn't strike me as that much different from the survey results we got back in the late 1980s, when people gave as a dominant reason for relocating to Wisconsin safer streets and quality-of-life issues," said Tom Corbett, associate director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin.
The study was of 772 recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children in the four southern Wisconsin counties-Kenosha, Racine, Rock and Milwaukee-that are participating in Gov. Tommy Thompson's two-tier welfare demonstration project.