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It’s not exactly news that the United States harbors an enormous number of people on welfare. By one account, more than 100 million Americans are on at least one welfare program run by the federal government. And despite the 1996 welfare reforms, the number of adults on foods stamp skyrocketed from an already high 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010. Less well known are the government costs involved in welfare.
According to information from the Senate Budget Committee, in 2011 the United States spent $61,194 on welfare programs for each household in poverty. According to some committee members, if this spending was converted to cash and handed out to those below the poverty line, it would exceed by more than 2.5 times the federal poverty threshold of $22,350 for a family of four.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States spends more on welfare than Social Security, Medicare, defense, or any other item in the federal budget. Federal spending on approximately 80 welfare programs has risen 32 percent since 2008. Include state contributions to those programs and the amount approaches $1 trillion. These fathomless costs illustrate some economic realities.
Despite what some people imagine, a dollar cannot be extracted from a taxpayer, travel to Washington DC, go out on the town, and then return intact as $1 to a district in the form of benefits. That is because all taxpayer dollars must trickle down through multiple layers of bureaucratic sediment. The welfare bureaucracy has a stake in the expansion of the number of people on welfare, not in the reduction of that number. This dynamic helps explain why, even in the worst recession since the 1930s, the federal government has made no serious move to trim bureaucratic waste. Indeed, the current administration larded up an already bloated Leviathan by adding new federal agencies, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
That happened under Barack Obama who now gets four more years, but this is not a partisan issue. George W. Bush, a Republican, was the biggest spendthrift since Lyndon Johnson. Whoever happens to be in the White House, government spending and dependency seem to increase in tandem.