There is a startling number of Americans who rely on government services these days. Approximately one in eight people receives food stamps, totaling a record enrollment of more than 41 million recipients in July. Over 4.4 million people depend on welfare. Millions live in government housing, and even more will soon rely on government as their sole provider of health care. Where Americans used to look to their community, family or church for help, they now turn to the newest bureaucratic program.
In order to begin shrinking our country’s record deficit, we cannot ignore the vacuum of federal spending that is government handouts. For the last eight years, the Heritage Foundation has tracked the growing dependence on government payments and programs, which has grown 13.6 percent since last year. The Index of Dependence on Government reports that in 2009, over 64 million Americans relied on the government for daily necessities such as food, housing and health care. The Index is based on five broad federal programs, including housing, health care and welfare, retirement, higher education, and rural and agricultural services.
While a number of Americans were forced to turn to government assistance as a result of the recession, the report points to two trends as the primary cause for such rapid growth. The first is increased spending on dependence-creating programs, such as the stimulus and health care reform, coupled with a rising percentage of Americans who don’t pay taxes. The number of people who don’t pay federal income taxes jumped from 14.8 percent in 1984 to 43.6 percent in 2008. While these programs continue to expand, so does the cost burden on taxpaying citizens.
What could further push federal finances to the tipping point is the massive number of baby boomers who will be shifting into retirement. The Index states that over the next 25 years, more than 77 million baby boomers will begin collecting Social Security checks, drawing Medicare benefits, and relying on long-term care under Medicaid. With an existing long-term shortfall, the Social Security system alone is struggling to meet its current obligations. In fact, the federal government recently announced that for the second year in a row, there will be no cost of living increase for the program’s 58 million recipients.
By pushing poverty to its highest level in 51 years, the recession has played its own part in forcing more Americans to be dependent on government. Social security alone has kept 14 million seniors above the poverty level. Georgia’s poverty rate increased 20 percent from 2008 to 2009, far exceeding the national average. According to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, the government has spent about $20,000 on each low income person this year. In a recent USA Today article, Rector noted that there’s been “an unprecedented surge in welfare spending, on cash and goods in medical programs for low income and poor Americans.”
Georgia taxpayers shoulder their burden of government programs. Georgia’s total Medicaid spending in 2008 amounted to $7.3 billion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. There are 15,000 people who take advantage of Section 8 housing in the state, with thousands on waiting lists.
Students in Georgia’s higher education system take advantage of government aid. When millions of taxpayer money is on the line, it’s important to ensure those benefits go only to eligible students, another reason to verify that those who attend higher learning institutions in Georgia are legal U.S. citizens.
This growth in dependence programs has led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to rank the U.S. as the second country most in need of reducing its structural deficit. President Obama has pledged to reduce the deficit to three percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015, which will prove to be difficult as the federal government continues to expand eligibility and benefits for entitlement programs. The IMF predicts that without reducing the deficit, U.S. public-sector debt will equal 100 percent of the GDP by 2015.
Continually widening the net of government assistance has created an unsustainable precedent in this country. More programs and more spending will only drive us further into debt, not create the jobs we so desperately need. Instead, our leaders need to lower taxes and reduce regulatory burdens to increase private sector economic activity. These are the tools that will result in growth and opportunity. The seeds of American society were sown by people who had no one to depend on but themselves, the blessing of God and the fruits of their labor. The founding fathers envisioned a country able to make things on its own and stand by itself. These principals and the blessing of liberty are what made this country great, and are really all the separates us from simply being another third world country.
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens, and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via e-mail at email@example.com.