Entitlement Nation

I know I’m a little late on this, but for those who haven’t seen this excellent work by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on where exactly entitlement spending goes:

This means that about 10 percent of entitlement spending goes to non-elderly, non-disabled, non-working households. Which necessarily means that 90 percent of entitlement spending goes to the disabled, the elderly, and the working poor.

CBPP produced this report to clarify some things given recent Republican presidential candidate rhetoric (emphasis added):

In a December 2011 op-ed, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney warned ominously of the dangers that the nation faces from the encroachment of the “Entitlement Society,” predicting that in a few years, “we will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival.” “Government dependency,” he wrote, “can only foster passivity and sloth.” Similarly, former Senator Rick Santorum said that recent expansions in the “reach of government” and the spending behind them are “systematically destroying the work ethic.”

The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.

I find these kinds of sentiments fascinating, especially from Santorum, because you’d think that we live in a country where the Personal Responsibility and Work Act didn’t exist. It’s almost as if they passed welfare reform and are only now discovering that doing so hasn’t produced the anti-poverty results they expected. Instead, by simultaneously and continuously raising the eligibility for things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, they’ve shifted benefits in such a way as to produce this:

If you read that NYT piece about entitlement spending then the above graph shouldn’t surprise you, though I will say they made a much prettier graphic. You might be wondering why the Top 20% is getting such a raw deal, but don’t worry, we more than make up for in tax expenditures:

One of the points that the CBPP brings up is that the 90’s welfare reform really redirected low-income entitlements towards “working families.” This is a point also made by David K. Shipler in The Working Poor. Yet perhaps the bigger point about all this is that everyone benefits from redistribution, and for different reasons. We can all argue about whether this a good idea or not, but it seems silly to paint a picture of an “entitlement society” directed towards lazy jobless moochers – which can necessarily only apply to 13 percent (entitlements plus tax expenditures) of society. Even then it’s still a largely blanket, ignorant sentiment towards a segment of this country.


One response to “Entitlement Nation

  1. Pingback: Entitlements and Knox County | Punditocracy·

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