NC Budget and Tax Center

We’re all in this together: The Truth About Federal entitlement spending

Across North Carolina and the nation at large, we’re seeing a fundamental policy debate playing itself out, which boiled down to its essence asks a single, critical question: Do government benefits promote dependency among those who receive those benefits, or do they promote personal responsibility and a common baseline opportunity for all Americans?

The big picture answer is that everyone benefits from our government’s spending on things like schools, roads, public health.  But the narrower part of this debate focuses on entitlement spending who receives it and what is required in exchange for these supports.  As a recent study makes clear, over 90% of entitlement spending benefits like Medicare, Social Security, and SNAP go to Americans who are either working, paying into the system, have paid into the system in the past, or have disabilities.  This spending provides a critical support that promotes the ideal that we’re all in this together.

This includes the 53% of recipients aged 65 and over, seniors who paid into the Medicare and Social Security programs their entire lives, and are now receiving the benefits they earned.  This includes the 18% of recipients who can be best described as working poor families, those who work and pay the payroll taxes that support current seniors, but earn so little income, they qualify for federal anti-poverty programs like SNAP, TANF, the school lunch program,, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And this includes the 20% of Americans with mental and physical disabilities that make it impossible for them to work.

On top of this 90% of workers, another 10% of entitlement benefit spending goes to several other purposes which can hardly be called dependency-inducing:  medical care and time-limited unemployment insurance for the jobless who must have a significant work history to be eligible, Social Security benefits for retirees between the ages of 62 and 64, who, again, have paid into the system their entire working lives, and Social Security Survivor’s benefits for widows and children of the deceased who otherwise would be destitute, as well as poor families with children who must demonstrated progress towards employment in a time-limited program.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of entitlement benefit spending goes to support people who either:  a) have worked their entire lives;  b) are working currently;  c) must find work before time limits expire (and demonstrate progress in doing so);  d) cannot work because of a disability; or  e) are widows and orphans.  How does any of this promote dependency?

The point of all of this is that we have entitlement spending not to promote dependency, but to provide a basic chance and opportunity to all Americans— to give them a chance to get through hard times and back on their feet; to give them the basic guaranteed retirement income they’ve earned; and to help provide for the most vulnerable among us.  This point, ultimately, is that we’re in this together.


  1. Frank Burns

    September 22, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Is anyone concerned about the number of people on disability? Do we make it too easy to get disability? Should we provide disability to someone who got in that condition due to their own neglect or substance abuse? From what I’m seeing, we are too lax on providing disability payments. Why should society provide disability payments to somebody who got in that condition by being fat or being an alcoholic? Show me a missing arm or leg otherwise, you get nothing.

    In my opinion the disability program is a national disgrace and needs to be reformed. This is clearly as case of promoting dependancy.

  2. Nonanon

    September 22, 2012 at 7:49 am

    One might be surprised at how quickly these “poor” and “disabled” will get off their couches and take to the streets when their “entitlements” quit coming because the government has lost the ability to borrow and spend.

    That’s where our entitlement society is headed. Allen, since you feel so strongly about it, I’m sure you won’t mind paying twice the amount of taxes you’re paying now, to pay for those who don’t work. Because that is also where we’re headed.

    If the national debt was paid off, and a balanced budget instituted, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because disability and welfare would be reserved for the most pitiful cases, as it once was.

    Newsflash for Allen, one can only borrow and spend until you can’t. Then what happens to the poor and disabled. Indeed, what will become of any of us. But, I can sleep better at night, knowing that you, Allen, have the best interests of all at heart. You may send your tax payments to the nearest tax revenue office. Have a nice day!

  3. no newspeak

    September 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Why do you call them entitlements? The state cooked up the nonsense word entitlement so they don’t have to talk about economic rights. This lets public discourse proceed in a vacuum with no mention of established state duties under customary international law and universal norms. By calling economic rights “entitlements,” progressives are going along with the statist deception, possibly out of ignorance (party rank and file have no idea what human rights are for, or how they work.) Wake me up when Dems show rudimentary awareness of the CESCR and the Declaration on the Right to Development. Any progressive worth the name should be demanding CESCR ratification and basing their platform on development. Boasting about the niggardly limitations of US entitlement programs is no way to win hearts & minds.

  4. Nonanon

    September 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Comrade, how do you expect a nation which breaks it’s own laws to adhere to any declaration of rights?

    The only “limitations” to entitlements is the sponsoring states ability to pay. We see the history of the soviet republic and the genocide of an entire generation by starvation.

    Depopulation would be one solution to meeting the states duties under universal norms, i.e. there aren’t enough resources to go around, then how does one ration them? Does the state decide, i.e. central planning, which leads to inefficient allocation of resources, or allow a market based system system of distribution?

    The problem with the socialist and capitalist models, as currently managed by the various nation states, is both lead to wealth inequality, which is, what ultimately needs to be addressed.

  5. nonewspeaak

    September 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Good questions, comrade. Human rights are set up specifically to curb out-of-control states like ours that break their own laws. Objective international review directs suasion and pressure by the international community, and ideally, domestic public pressure by an informed populace. For example, did you know that the US is now under review by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture? I thought not. The Obama administration is fighting desperately to stall the reviews with pathetic dog-ate-my-homework foot dragging.

    And those Soviet boogymen they got you waving around, that’s pure US statist propaganda. Human rights stipulate nothing about market or controlled economies. States are on the hook for results that benefit the population, not for economic systems. The human rights review process* is equally able to police Soviet malinvestment (remember the Helsinki Commission?) or US malinvestment – such as US socialized housing construction and subsequent illegal mass evictions, or the $29 trillion corruptly diverted from the state’s obligations to bail out bankrupt banks.

    You’re right that inequality’s the nub of it. Human rights doesn’t get at inequality, either. But inequality is rolled into the broader concept of development (and its complement, the right to peace.)

    * The CESCR, the Limburg Principles, the review bodies and General Opinions. Your government keeps the masses ignorant of all this because it doesn’t want its feet held to the fire by people who know their rights.

  6. Nonanon

    September 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    The rights which the US Constitution upholds are inalienable, so there is is need for review bodies or General Opinions, only enforcement of existing law, which, if a nation is in violation, there’s nothing to prevent them from violating any other laws, no matter who upholds them.

    The discussion of entitlements, i.e. pensions, welfare, food stamps, and health care; or human rights, as you call them, are mutually independent and are separate discussions, so there is a distinction between entitlements and rights, contrary to what you may think in your country, probably a police state, which is where the US is headed, undoubtedly to your delight.

  7. oldspeak

    September 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    If you compare your putative constitutional rights to the International Bill of Human Rights, you find out you got totally ripped off. The Bill of Rights is a miserable, measly subset of your actual human rights. And anyway, it’s gone. You ain’t gettin it back. Congressional war powers ceded to the executive; Congressional power of the purse ceded to the Fed; No more rights for you; In phony rigged elections you choose from two and only two flavors of shit sandwich.

    So. Your constitution’s gone. You might as well replace it with the state of the art. Why do you think no country used the US Constitution as a model for a hundred years? It’s obsolete nonfunctioning crap, that’s why. It didn’t stop this bloodthirsty kleptocratic dictatorship that’s gouging you left and right, Did it? Come on, you desperately need intervention from the civilized world.

    And of course my country is a police state. I live in it with you. I just get out more, which helps you escape the bipartisan statist bullshit.

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