Who gets government assistance?



I’ve always generally felt that in a modern society, nobody should be starving.
(The phrase “I can’t get the medical treatment I need because I can’t afford it.” shouldn’t exist either, but that’s another post, another day…)

I also know one of the main “complaints” lodged by conservative politicians and talk show hosts is against spending money on “lazy people who just don’t want to work.”

I’ll agree to that, I don’t feel like you should get assistance so you can lay around and not work if you’re able to. That one seems easy.
The real issue, is that everybody seems to “know a guy” who does just this, lays around and does nothing but collect unemployment.

Which made me want to know….what does the data show? Just who is getting government assistance? I’m a skeptic, I realized all I ever heard was anecdotes and straw-men against the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Is there actual data showing where the money goes?

Yes. Thanks be to god Google, there is.

  A new CBPP analysis of budget and Census data, however, shows that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs[1] spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.  (See Figure 1.)

I knew I was in the right place when I saw my most favorite line in any argument:

(See Figure 1.)


That gem right there means: Evidence, coming right up! Lets not wait. Here’s figure 1!

It’s so beautiful. Pie charts! SOURCES!

The article itself is quite long, citing it’s data, and performing comparisons.  We can learn a lot from the data.

First we can learn, that Mittens Romney thinks that the elderly, the disabled, children, and those who are working but still not making enough, are just lazy.

“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.


This kind of thinking is the result of listening to conservative talking points instead of actual data.

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.  

Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.


Fact checking, another fun hobby!

Of course, there’s still that 9%…right? We could trim that fat, make some savings?

Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64.  Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.

The article goes on further, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3677, but those are the highlights. This idea born from ignorance, that “welfare queens,” and lazy people are sucking up your tax dollars, simply isn’t true. It’s an outright fabrication, pushed out from conservative mouthpieces that don’t care to look at the actual data.

Oh, and the idea that this is all socialism, that we’re taxing the rich and middle class and “giving” it to the needy?

The data in this analysis also dispel other common misperceptions, such as a belief (sometimes fanned by political figures) that entitlement programs shift substantial resources from the middle class to the poor.


Data. It makes you less wrong, and we could all use more of that.


You can find me on twitter, @DrDavidBurger

I recruit in Kansas City, http://www.kcatheists.org/
& https://www.facebook.com/KCAtheists



About doctorburger
  • khan

    And we all have a friend who uses abortion for birth control, who was saved by not wearing a seat belt/bike helmet, …

  • Lyfa

    Also funny because of the assumption that people are unemployed just beause they want to be, instead of say being laid off, or there being lack of employment that matches your education.

  • smrnda

    Something I’m always inclined to point out is that poor people work far harder than rich people. When was the last time anybody in the 1% pulled a 12 hour day actually working? Think of all the jobs that pay shit money – they are usually extremely hard to do. Wealthy people are sitting on their asses earning a killing from passive ownership – I doubt many wealthy people even manage their own investments, they probably delegate that task to others. And the whole job creator nonsense reminds me of feudalism, where the feudal lord who owns the estate is seen as the person who is really doing something and the serfs who toil the land are seen as someone indebted to him for the opportunity. What we really see is that the worker is the one whose future is uncertain because some member of the Investor Class wants to be sure he’ll cash in.

    I mean, I’m a professional with a college degree doing knowledge-based work. I don’t work as hard as the people working fast food. I could “go Galt” for a week and society wouldn’t collapse, but a strike by the people who haul away the trash would cause about any town to grind to a halt. I don’t just get sick of members of the 1% complaining about lazy poor people, I get sick of middle class people who clutch their pearls over the poor who get ‘their’ tax money. I mean, the middle class way of life is built on the assumption that there will always be lots of people waiting their tables, stocking the shelves and slaughtering their meat making shit money in shit conditions with no benefits. The middle class ignorance bothers me more since I don’t think it’s acceptable for people who probably brush shoulders with workers so often to be so ignorant of what those people go through. We all know what minimum wage is – anybody can do the math and figure out there’s hardly any way one person can live on it.

    I also get sick of the ‘well, how much should you make if you ONLY aspire to be a line cook, waitress etc.” people aren’t their jobs, and any useful work should entitle you to some minimum standard of living.

    • Drakk

      No, see, you need to work hard in a lucrative field!

      • smrnda

        Yeah, I should have skipped college and grad school and gone into drug dealing. Much more lucrative :-)

        The way that useful workers get shat on reminds me of how some necessary jobs in some cultures get labeled as ‘untouchable’ jobs and that people who do them get stuck in ‘untouchable’ castes. We think it’s ridiculous to label a necessary job one that relegates a person to an untouchable caste, but we more or less do the same thing in the States.

    • baal

      well said

      fwiw, 1 full time job at minimum wage puts a family below the poverty level. We’d need to nearly double the wage to fix that.

    • John Horstman

      Plenty of the people who are part of the 1% due to earned income (versus capital gains) do work long days with few vacations. They’re still really overpaid – money nominally represents added value resulting from one’s labor, and hauling trash and shit away from our homes is WAY more valuable to everyone than, say, managing a hedge fund. I agree that the view that poor people are somehow “lazy” is absurd, and someone working two 40-hr/week jobs is clearly working more than someone working one, but the ridiculous amount of work hours exists all throughout the income spectrum. I see that problem as 1) capitalism (making money from money without an additional input of labor or other utility) and 2) pricing of labor not related to the actual utility value of that labor. Since a lot of the skewed valuation of labor in the second problem is related to the first (we pay people who do the labor that makes capitalism happen on behalf of others the most), we could solve a lot of the issues with our economic structure simply by banning (unlikely) or heavily restricting the finance/capital sector of the economy. Of course, that means that people making millions and billions without doing actual work (risking one’s money, which they may well be doing, is not the same as doing useful labor – I’m not entirely sure why we seek to reward risk) would no longer be able to do so, and since they control most of the wealth, by definition, and thus also exert heavy influence over our political systems, it’s difficult to implement reasonable economic policies.

  • Stevarious

    It’s their own fault for not being born with a trust fund that gets them into Harvard!

  • John Horstman

    I should also point out that the view that simply handing people money for doing nothing is not “socialism”; it’s a fix for a capitalist economy that results in massive inequalities of income and wealth with the cynical intent of preventing a revolution organized by starving, homeless, disenfranchised masses with no other recourse (or in some cases the less-cynical desire to provide everyone the opportunity to at least survive). The real objection to a socialist system comes from the leisure class, those who DON’T need to work and thus don’t, since a socialist structure would prevent the accumulation of wealth they enjoy and also require everyone capable of work to work. It’s capitalism that breeds entitlement and socialism that requires that everyone earns hir income. Welfare to Work would have been a great idea if it hadn’t involved the private sector (it functionally is a program that subsidizes even-cheaper labor for private businesses at the public expense): I would very much favor replacing all cash (or in-kind) payment programs with a public sector large enough to guarantee 100% employment, but since this would force businesses to actually pay workers what they’re worth (instead of there being a constant surplus of labor driving labor prices down), it’s unlikely in the near term.

  • Courtney C.

    Thank you so much for writing and researching this post. I’ve been sending it to EVERYONE today in light of Romney’s 47% comments. :)

    • doctorburger

      Hey, thanks!

  • jesse needham

    Thanks for posting this.. A couple days ago I unleashed on someone who was going on about gov. assistance is for the lazy drug users. Without knowing anything about me, she accused me of be a “welfare person” who makes spelling errors and does drugs. What did I learn from this exchange? Make sure her husband is not an ex-military, right wing gun nut in a neighboring town who sees 1984 everywhere.