Families across the United States are becoming ever more dependent on the many forms of federal government assistance to get by. The numbers are at record highs. Sara Murray, reporting on the Wall Street Journal online, writes the shocking news:
Nearly half, 48.5%, of the population lived in a household that received some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2010, according to Census data. Those numbers have risen since the middle of the recession when 44.4% lived households receiving benefits in the third quarter of 2008.
The share of people relying on government benefits has reached a historic high, in large part from the deep recession and meager recovery, but also because of the expansion of government programs over the years. (See a timeline on the history of government benefits programs here.)
Means-tested programs, designed to help the needy, accounted for the largest share of recipients last year. Some 34.2% of Americans lived in a household that received benefits such as food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for the poor).
Another 14.5% lived in homes where someone was on Medicare (the health care program for the elderly). Nearly 16% lived in households receiving Social Security.
High unemployment and increased reliance on government programs has also shrunk the nation’s share of taxpayers. Some 46.4% of households will pay no federal income tax this year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That’s up from 39.9% in 2007, the year the recession began.
Most of those households will still be hit by payroll taxes. Just 18.1% of households pay neither payroll nor federal income taxes and they are predominantly the nation’s elderly and poorest families.
The tandem rise in government-benefits recipients and fall in taxpayers has been cause for alarm among some policymakers and presidential hopefuls.
The most startling revelation was not as much in Ms. Murray’s nonethless-dispiriting reporting as in the accompanying graph, starkly showing the almost steady increase (except for a slight decline in the late 1990s) in the ever-rising percentage of households with at least one person benefitting from the federally-funded social safety net from 1983, when the number was less than 30%.
As the leading edge of the Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — turn and will continue turning 65 until the end of this year, the percentages will only rise as they take their first bites out of their long-promised Social Security before it disappears entirely.
These numbers have the potential to be even more devastating to the incumbent’s bid for re-election than the nearly 10% unemployment figures. This is not a portrait of a vibrant population in a robust economy.