The government paid out $2,007,358,200,000 in entitlements and benefits in fiscal 2013.
That’s according to a Congressional Budget office summary of fiscal 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013.)
Also during fiscal 2013, total government outlays were $3.454 trillion with revenue of $2.774 trillion. That’s a deficit of $680 billion. That was $409 billion less than the year before and the first time since 2008 that the deficit was less than $1 trillion in any fiscal year.
Most of that $2 trillion in benefits paid out came in the form of non-means tested government programs. Those are the programs that pay benefits to people who qualify regardless of how much they make.
Almost 70 percent – roughly $1.4 trillion –  of the benefits were of that type.
Those are programs like Social Security, Medicare unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, retirement programs and different types of veterans compensation.
The other 30 percent – approximately $608 billion – were means-tested benefits where income must be below a certain level for a person to be eligible.
Those are programs like rental subsidies, food stamps, supplemental security income, needy family programs and the like.
Such government programs include public or subsidized rental housing, Federal Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, food stamps, reduced price school lunches, Pell grants and the like.
So the $2 trillion in benefits amounts to about 58 percent of the total amount spent by the government.
That’s a lot of benefits.
But even more troubling than the dollar amount being spent on benefits is the meteoric rise in the number of people getting them.
It truly is stunning.
Government statistics show the number of working-age Americans receiving disability payments has doubled in recent decades.
The share of working-age Americans receiving federal disability payments has more than doubled in recent decades. It’s up from 2.3 percent of workers in 1980 to 4.7 percent in 2011.
To be sure, Americans are getting older – baby boomers – and less healthy. And more women have entered the workforce so the number of female workers on disability has climbed.
But there are plenty of experts who believe that disability has become a way to collect from the government after unemployment benefits expire. In other words, people capable of working are unable or unwilling to find jobs and collect disability payments instead.
This is not a good thing because once somebody goes on disability during and economic downturn, they rarely return to the workforce no matter how much the economy improves.
This is bad in two ways. There are more people on the dole and fewer people paying the bills.
And that’s just the disability part of the equation. The number of people receiving food stamps is at an all-time high and other government programs also are growing.
In fact, the Washington Post reported that:
“In 2011, about 49 percent of the U.S. population lived in a household where at least one member received a direct benefit from the federal government.
“About 29 percent of households received Medicare benefits and 31.6 percent received Social Security.
“Meanwhile, about 32 million households, or 27.1 percent, benefited from at least one means-tested poverty program. The biggest benefits here were Medicaid (19.5 percent), food stamps (12.7 percent) and subsidized lunches (11.2 percent).
“Smaller benefits include public housing (5 percent of households), unemployment (4 percent), and veterans' compensation (2.6 percent). Only 7 percent of households receive some sort of direct cash assistance, such as the TANF welfare program.”
At the same time, the number of people actually paying for these programs – read this, taxpayers – is shrinking.
In 2011, 44.7 percent of Americans – some working, some not – paid no income taxes.
The Heritage Foundation, in its 2013 Index of Dependence on Government, points out that “dependence on government by an increasing portion of the American population, and soaring debt that threatens the financial integrity of the economy worsened yet again in 2011 and 2012. ...
“The United States has reached the point at which it must reverse the direction of both trends or eventually face economic and social collapse.”
I fully agree with that assessment.
See, we could barely afford the subsidies we had in place in 2008, before the fiscal crisis that sent unemployment soaring.
With fewer workers, there were fewer taxpayers, yet the number of people collecting government payments ballooned.
It doesn’t take a doctorate in economics to understand that this arrangement is unsustainable.
And we’re not even to the rough patch yet. That’s over the next couple of decades when the number of people retiring in the U.S. reaches record numbers. Lots of these retirees will be depending on the government for Social Security and health care programs which are teetering on the brink of insolvency.
Despite all this, the people running the show – the policymakers – seem to have no clue what to do about it.
Their answer seems to be to keep running up the debt. I can’t help but think this nation has built an economic house of cards that is nearing collapse. The only thing saving us is that other countries around the world are willing to prop up our debt because a U.S. default would wreak economic havoc worldwide.
It seems like a daunting, complex problem, but really, it’s pretty simple.
Who pulls the wagon when everybody rides?