Fake News: Bernie Sanders DID Say Whites 'Don't Know What It's Like To Be Poor,' But 70% Of Americans In Poverty Are NOT White

Fact Check

  • by: Alan Duke
Fake News: Bernie Sanders DID Say Whites 'Don't Know What It's Like To Be Poor,' But 70% Of Americans In Poverty Are NOT White

Did Sen. Bernie Sanders say 'When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be poor' and are 70% of Americans living in poverty white? Yes, the quote is true, but no, the statistics is wrong: Sen. Sanders did say that during a presidential primary debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, but a trending meme that includes the quote is wrong in also claiming that White Americans make up 70% of those living in poverty in the United States.

Versions of the meme have circulated since the 2016 presidential primary debate, and more recently in a post (archived here) published on May 11, 2019 under the title "YUPPERS ANOTHER DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST WHITE RHETORIC SMH". It opened:

'When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be poor'


This is what one version of the meme looks like on social media:


Sen. Sanders was debating Hillary Clinton in Flint, Michigan, on March 6, 2016, when CNN host Don Lemon asked him what racial blind spot he might have. Sanders replied with examples of racial descrimination and then said this:

When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

Sanders was criticized in the wake of the debate for overlooking the millions of American families who are white and in poverty. In fact, just as Whites are the largest racial group in the United States, they make up the largest group living below the federally-recognized poverty line. But the memes reviewed by Lead Stories are wrong when they exaggerate the percentage of poor whites. They make up under 42%, not the 70% claimed.

The U.S. Census Bureau's most-recent current population survey (click here and download table 2) counts 83,103,000 families in the United States as of 2017. There were 7,758,000 families living below the federal poverty line that year, which is 9.3% of all American families. There were 53,854,000 White families and 3,233,000 were in poverty. That's a 6% poverty rate for Whites.

There were 10,024,000 Black families in the USA in 2017, with 1,825,000 living in poverty. This is an 18.2% poverty rate for Blacks.

The bottom line is that 41.67% of all families in poverty in 2017 were white and 23.52% were black. While the Sanders quote is accurate, the meme is false on the poverty claim.

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  Alan Duke

Editor-in-Chief Alan Duke co-founded Lead Stories after ending a 26-year career with CNN, where he mainly covered entertainment, current affairs and politics. Duke closely covered domestic terrorism cases for CNN, including the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, the UNABOMBER and search for Southeast bomber Eric Robert Rudolph. CNN moved Duke to Los Angeles in 2009 to cover the entertainment beat. Duke also co-hosted a daily podcast with former HLN host Nancy Grace, "Crime Stories with Nancy Grace" and hosted the podcast series "Stan Lee's World: His Real Life Battle with Heroes & Villains." You'll also see Duke in many news documentaries, including on the Reelz channel, CNN and HLN.

Read more about or contact Alan Duke

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