Many residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient and as opponents of government largess are drawing deeply on the government.
Benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each person in the county in 2009, a 69% increase from 2000. The government provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive most of the government benefits. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54% in 1979 to 36% in 2007.
As more middle-class families land in the safety net, anger at the government has increased. People are angry because the government is giving money to people who do not deserve it, but more than that, they are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it, and resent the government for providing it.
Government benefits are an issue in the Presidential campaign. Rick Santorum has warned of “the narcotic of government dependency.” Newt Gingrich has compared the safety net to a spider web. Mitt Romney has said the nation must choose between an “entitlement society” and an “opportunity society.” All the candidates, including Ron Paul, have promised to cut spending and cut taxes.
Politicians have expanded the safety net without an increase in revenues, expanding the government’s mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions, and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.
Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes, 56% supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security, and 44% favored both.
Via The New York Times.