One of the arguments from conservatives and libertarians that leaves me shaking my head is the claim that if the government would just stop helping poor people, private charity would make up the difference. Christopher Flavelle crunches the numbers and shows why this is nonsense.
A third reason is scale. The food stamps program cost $78 billion last year, and Medicaid cost $251 billion. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or what used to be called welfare, cost another $31 billion. Once the Obamacare exchanges reach something like full capacity in 2017, federal subsidies for insurance on those exchanges is projected to cost about $108 billion. And that’s before we even mention Social Security, which cost $773 billion in 2012.
So the idea that a reduction in these programs could somehow be made up for by an increase in private giving just doesn’t reflect reality. In a country where 57 million people don’t have health insurance and one in four children live in poverty, falling support for government welfare programs can’t be defended on the grounds that Americans remain individually charitable.
Americans gave $318 billion to charity last year, but a huge portion of that does nothing to help reduce poverty. A third of that total is comprised of what people give to their churches, of which only a small portion goes to actual charity. A bunch more goes to things like Little League or school programs for their own children and another portion goes to non-profit foundations that are really just political advocacy groups.
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