A common theme you hear from Republican politicians these days is that government’s growing entitlement programs are creating a large permanent class of people willing to live off of government benefits instead of working.
In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. – Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney
The good news for us is that there’s data we can use to evaluate those claims, and that’s just what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities did. The bad news for Republican politicians is that their claims don’t hold up when you look at the data.
The CBPP looked at the 11 largest federal entitlement programs, which represented 88% of entitlement spending in the 2010 budget — a total of $1.83 trillion. Included are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, among others.
Here’s how the spending broke down:
53% of entitlement spending went to the persons over the age of 65 (primarily through Social Security and Medicare). 20% went to those under the age of 65 who are disabled, while another 18% went to households where at least one person worked at least 20 hours a week. 3% of the entitlement spending was for unemployment benefits, which require a history of employment in order to be eligible.
So let’s total it up — 73% of entitlement spending goes to people who we don’t expect to work (the elderly and disabled). 21% of entitlement spending goes to the working poor or people who recently lost employment. So that leaves just 6% of entitlement spending to people who fall outside those categories.
What sort of spending is in that 6%? Well, most of that spending is Social Security-related: survivor benefits for children and spouses of deceased workers and payments to people who elected to retire early between ages 62 and 64. There’s also some Medicaid expense for the non-working, non-disabled poor. Those three categories represent two-thirds of that remaining 6%.
In summary, then, you’ve got somewhere between 2% and 6% of entitlement spending that could be being directed at folks who may not really need it — depending on if you want to classify people collecting survivors benefits as passive and sloth-like. Is this really an “Entitlement Society” or just empty sloganeering?