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.