Economics, Entitlements

A nation of beneficiaries

Note: Derived by author on the basis of data on official transfers, price changes, and population change. Sources: US Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Dept. of Labor, US Census International Data Base

Note: Derived by author on the basis of data on official transfers, price changes, and population change. Sources: US Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Dept. of Labor, US Census International Data Base

A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that 55% of Americans have received government benefits from at least one of the six most well-known federal entitlement programs. Those would be Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment benefits, and/or food stamps.

About a third of all adults have received multiple benefits, with 15% using three or more programs. Sixteen percent said that while they themselves have not received help, a member of their household had, meaning that 71% of adults live in a household that has benefited from at least one program.

If you add veteran benefits and federal college loans/grants to the picture, 70% of individual Americans have received entitlements and the household share with at least one recipient grows to 86%.

Looking at demographic subgroups, women are more likely than men to have received an entitlement benefit (61% vs 49%). The old almost universally receive benefits (97% among those 65+) while only 33% of those between 18 and 29 have used one of these programs. Sixty-four percent of black Americans received benefits compared to 56% of whites and 50% of Hispanics.

Americans are about equally likely to use a program regardless of partisanship, with 60% of Democrats, 52% of Republicans, and 53% of Independents saying they have used one. Meanwhile, 57% of conservatives, 53% of moderates, and 53% of liberals are on the dole.

While program use is spread about evenly throughout the nation’s geographic regions, it is markedly higher in rural communities (62%) than in the cities or suburbs (53% and 54%, respectively).

When you combine these facts with the fantastic work done by AEI scholar Nick Eberstadt in his new book, A Nation of Takers, it becomes clear that America is facing an entitlement explosion that is simply unsustainable. When only 45% of the country is paying for benefits for the other 55%, it’s no surprise that our government is running annual trillion-dollar deficits. Even if (when?) the economy fully recovers, these ratios just can’t be maintained, especially if the trend of the last few decades towards increasing dependency continues.

7 thoughts on “A nation of beneficiaries

  1. If someone is paying payroll taxes for SS or Medicare Part A or a government employee – or military pensioner is receiving benefits earned as part of their compensation – it’s deceiving to consider these the same as welfare or unemployment.

    We can’t begin to have a reasonable discussion on this as long as some groups are totaling up every conceivable benefit received as an “entitlement”.

    Medicare B,C and D and MedicAid -yes

    but when you call the VA an “entitlement” – even those who don’t like hand-outs are going to call you on that classification and they should.

    The other question is if people via individual mandates pay into a system their whole life and then get benefits via an annuity why would you call that an “entitlement”?

    If people who currently receive Medicare – were to pay 100% for the benefits – would you still call it an “entitlement”?

    This kind of dialogue does not help us to get to a better outcome in the future.

    It basically condemns any/all of these things as wrong unless and until they are repealed.

    No one is going to repeal Social Security, FICA payroll taxes or even Medcare

    Ya’ll have to get yourselves past this and onto a path that leads to changes rather than keep hoping for destruction.

    • Larry,

      I agree that we need to use discretion as to which programs are “entitlements” and which are not. For the purposes of this post, however, I was using Pew’s definition: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment, and food stamps. As for the VA and college loans, perhaps I should have said “benefits” instead of “entitlements” in that sentence. Pew calls them entitlement benefits.

      Thanks for the comment.

      -Henrik

  2. I agree that we need to use discretion as to which programs are “entitlements” and which are not.

    So why don’t you graph net entitlements? Gross outlays less FICA and other dedicated receipts. Or show the receipts as a different line on the same chart as the outlays.

  3. “When only 45% of the country is paying for benefits for the other 55%, it’s no surprise that our government is running annual trillion-dollar deficits.” Wow!

    Sorry, this is not at all what is going on. Read the Pew graph–it says “% of all adults who have ever received benefits…” EVER. i.e., at some point in time, not necessarily NOW.

    I, for example, received federal student loans in my twenties. Thanks to those loans, in part, I now earn good money and pay taxes so that others can receive student loans. This is good.

    Furthermore, it’s clear from this data that if we live long enough almost all of us (97% over age 65) will receive some benefit at some point. This doesn’t imply that 3% of us will pay for all those benefits!

    The data you need to make your above statement–which also seems to be data missing–is what per cent of the population is currently receiving benefits and what per cent of the population is currently paying taxes (payroll, income) which support those benefits. Note that it is quite possible to be receiving some benefits while also paying to support benefits in general, even concurrently (working poor receiving food stamps while paying payroll taxes, for example.) So these two percentages may well total over 100%.

    Your statement, while dramatic, is flat out wrong.

  4. I would point out that as with Social Obscurity and Medicare, The Government collects “unemployment insurance” premiums from us while we work. Check your pay stub. So collecting a payout from your own unemployment account when one is “between projects” is the way the system is supposed to work. Unless you’re suggesting that the unemployment tax is just another government hoax.

  5. IT REALLY BURNS ME WHEN PEOPLE CALL MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY ENTITLEMENTS. I PAID INTO THESE MY WHOLE WORKING LIFE!! I COULD HAVE MADE A WHOLE LOT MORE MONEY IF I COULD HAVE INVESTED THE MANDATORY TAXES WITHHELD FROM MY PAYCHECK. I EARNED EVERY PENNY I AM RECEIVING NOW!!!

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