Almost half of all Americans lived in households that received government benefits in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The share climbed from 37.7 percent in 1998 to 44.5 percent in 2006, before the recession, to 48.5 percent in 2010.As a consequence, benefits programs in Chisago, and nationwide, have risen to the point that the government "now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income."
The trend reflects the expansion of the safety net. [...]
It also reflects the deterioration of the middle class. Chisago [County north of Minneapolis] boomed and prospered for decades as working families packed new subdivisions along Interstate 35, which runs up the western edge of the county like a flagpole with its base set firmly in Minneapolis. But recent years have been leaner. Per capita income in Chisago excluding government aid fell 6 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis between 2000 and 2007. Over the next two years, it fell an additional 7 percent. Nationally, per capita income excluding government benefits fell by 3 percent over the same 10 years.
And while polls show a majority of citizens in the nation say something needs to be done—cut spending, raise taxes or both—they bristle when actually called upon to give up entirely or take a reduction in programs that help them personally. They resist even more the idea of paying higher taxes. Whether it's conceding that they might be dead without Medicare or not been able to get a degree without Pell Grants, people in Chisago County and elsewhere talk about wanting to see the nation take its austerity medicine or get a dose of higher taxes. They say they believe the nation must, in fact, do so. But they make clear that it shouldn't be their programs or their generation that takes the hits.
And then there's another aspect of all this. Many people have no clue that they benefit from government programs.
In crafting a cartoon to explain the situation, B. Deutsch at Alas, a Blog, built a revealing table showing how little many people know about the government programs that they receive a boost from. The table is based on information from Suzanne Mettler's “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era,” published in Perspectives on Politics, September 2010 (pdf)
|Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program”|
|Program||“No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program”|
|529 or Coverdell||64.3|
|Home Mortgage Interest Deduction||60.0|
|Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit||59.6|
|Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit||51.7|
|Earned Income Tax Credit||47.1|
|Social Security—Retirement & Survivors||44.1|
|Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill)||41.7|
|Social Security Disability||28.7|
|Supplemental Security Income||28.2|
|Government Subsidized Housing||27.4|
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Dartagnan's diary also has a discussion on this subject.