Much has been written about this excellent New York Times piece by Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff – see Konczal & Krugman. I could have sworn this type of knowledge was already well-known to those interested, but given the relative Twitter reaction perhaps not. From the beginning of the Appelbaum and Gebeloff article:
Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.
He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.
Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.
This is one reason why I like some of the longer-form Times articles, lots of personal context against the backdrop of relevant macro-info (emphasis added):
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
Konczal argues (rightly, I think) that this is more by happenstance than design – perhaps with the exception of the routine EITC expansions. But for the graphically inclined the two writers also penned an Economix blog post explaining the distribution of government benefits in 2010:
Which is all a very good, albeit roundabout, way of saying that the majority of government redistribution is funneled to the middle of the citizenry in this country. Reducing this will necessarily involve taking many benefits from a segment of the population that actually votes, a fact that I can’t imagine sits well with many politicians.
One other aspect I wanted to connect is also information that’s been sitting around for awhile – the ratio of federal tax contributions to government transfers by state political typography, via Aaron Carroll:
While this was raised in the Times piece, I think Carroll does an excellent job of putting in graph form the fact that states typically identified as politically conservative receive more in government transfers than they pay in federal taxes. This information is something that always raises eyebrows to those that don’t know, and is often quite the conversation starter.