This article was posted on Monday, Sep 01, 2014

Did you know that the number of Americans getting benefits from the federal government each month greatly exceeds the number of full-time workers in the economy by a long shot? Sadly, it’s true.

Based on the latest Census Bureau data available, there were over 148 million non-veteran Americans who were on some kind of monthly means-tested government benefit programs in 2012, by far the highest number ever. Today, that number is around 167 million by some more recent estimates.

By comparison, the Census Bureau estimates that there were approximately 103 million Americans who were employed in full-time jobs for the entire year in 2012. That’s a gap of 45 million people. Thus, the number of people that are taking money out of the system is far greater than the number of people working full-time that are putting money (taxes) into the system.

[In case you’re wondering, the Census data released recently did not take into account the effects of part-time workers who in most cases also pay into the system, but in many cases also receive government benefits.]

Nearly 70% of all of the money that the federal government spends each year goes toward entitlement and welfare programs. This is why the only realistic way to balance our federal budget and reduce our massive national debt is to address and reform our entitlement and welfare programs.

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Much of what the government does involves taking money from some people and giving it to other people.  Figures from the Heritage Foundation, show that 69% of all federal money is spent on entitlements and welfare programs.

This is startling! So when politicians tell us that the main reason why we are being taxed so heavily is so that we can “build roads and bridges” and provide needed “public services,” they are lying to us. The main reason why the government taxes us so much is so that they can continue to maintain this broken system.

Some argue that Social Security and Medicare payments should not be included in a discussion about people’s dependence on government. After all, most people receiving these benefits paid into the system over the years while they were in the workforce, and the benefits they receive are tied to the amounts they contributed. (Granted, some people actually end up getting more out of the system than they paid into it.)

However, let’s face it, we are all dependent on the government to be solvent enough to pay out our benefits whether we paid into the system or not. Many people paying into Social Security and Medicare today are concerned that they’ll never get back what they put into the system. For those reasons and others, I have included Social Security and Medicare payments in this discussion.

Why We’re So Dependent on Government Benefits

We have become a nation that is hopelessly addicted to government benefits. The following are some statistics which show that government dependence has reached epidemic levels. These stats came from which can be very opinionated, but most include solid references.

According to an analysis of U.S. government numbers conducted by Terrence P. Jeffrey, there are 86 million full-time private sector workers [103 million total full-time workers] in the United States paying taxes to support the government, and approximately 148 million Americans that are receiving benefits from the government each month.

  • TheU.S.government has spent an astounding 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs over the past five years.
  • While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the total number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 32 million to nearly 47 million.
  • Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, that’s one out of every six, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.
  • In 1968, there were 51 full-time workers for every American on disability.  Today, there are just 13 full-time workers for every American on disability.
  • Over the next 75 years, the Social Security system is scheduled to pay out $134 trillion more in benefits than it will collect in taxes, according to the Trustees Report.
  • According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, an all-time record 49.2 percent of all Americans are receiving benefits from at least one government program each month.  Back in 1983, less than a third of all Americans lived in a home that received direct monetary benefits from the federal government.

Bottom line: There is no question that government benefit programs and welfare in general are at epidemic levels and are completely out of control.  Does this mean I’m opposed to the government helping the poor and impoverished? Absolutely not! But the government welfare system is out of control and needs to be reformed to get more people back to work instead of them being permanently hooked on government assistance.  If not, the government will eventually be unable to pay benefits due to Social Security recipients and those truly in need. 

Why the Welfare System Hasn’t Worked

When President Lyndon Johnson announced the “War on Poverty” in January 1964, the poverty rate was at 19%. A decade later, the poverty rate did fall to under 12%. However, in the late 1970s, the poverty rate increased back to 15%. While the rate fell back to below 12% in the late 1990s, it was once again back at roughly 15% by the end of 2012.

More importantly, by the end of 2012, a record 46.5 million Americans were living at or below the poverty line. Over the long-run, the War on Poverty simply hasn’t worked and the number of Americans living in poverty continues to increase.

The same is true of the means-tested welfare system in which recipients must qualify to receive benefits. When major parts of the welfare system were legislated into place over the years, the stated rationale always was that these programs would be temporary benefits that would help most people get back on their feet and back into the workforce. But it hasn’t worked that way, in fact just the opposite.

America’s welfare empire encompasses more than 200 federal and state programs, including 23 low-income health programs, 27 low-income housing programs, 30 employment and training programs, 34 social services programs, at least 13 food and nutrition programs, and 24 low-income child care programs, among others.

Federal and state governments in the U.S.spend a trillion dollars a year just on these means-tested welfare programs, which does not include Social Security or Medicare. That is almost twice what we spend on national defense. It adds up to roughly $17,000 per person in poverty per year, over $50,000 for a low-income family of three.

Get this: The Census Bureau estimates that our current welfare spending totals four times what would be necessary to give all of the poor enough cash to bring them above the poverty line, thus eliminating poverty in America. So if we really want to eliminate poverty, why don’t we do just that? This is a highly-charged political question I must leave for another time.

Granted, there are people who legitimately need help and welfare provides a much needed benefit for them. However, it should be a temporary benefit in most cases and not a way of life.  Like many things in government, over time abuse and waste overwhelms the system.  Eventually there’s not enough money coming in to cover the benefits being paid out.

The Non-Working/Single-Parent Poverty Connection

One major reason that poverty stopped declining a decade after the War on Poverty started is that the poor and lower-income population increasingly stopped working. In 1960, nearly two-thirds of households in the lowest income 20% of the population were headed by persons who worked. But by 1991, this work effort had declined by about 50%, with only one-third of household heads in the bottom 20% in income working, and only 11% working full-time, year-round.

How could such a dramatic plunge in working have happened in only three decades? Answer: Soaring welfare programs made it easier to stay home and do nothing.

Along with this collapse of work, the War on Poverty was also associated with the breakup of lower-income families and soaring out-of-wedlock births. As the out-of-wedlock birth rate soared since the 60s and 70s, the poverty rate among this group soared as well.

Not working and having children outside of marriage are two of the main causes of poverty inAmericatoday. Indeed, full-time work year-round, even at the current minimum wage, plus the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit, would be enough to lift nearly every American family out of poverty. Yet, the typical poor family with children today is supported by only about 800 hours of work during a year, or 16 hours per week.

As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains, “If poor women who give birth outside of marriage were married to the fathers of their children, two-thirds would immediately be lifted out of poverty. Roughly 80 percent of all long-term poverty occurs in single-parent homes.”

Conclusions – How Did This Happen?

How is it possible that a supposedly caring government created a massive, trillion dollar a year welfare system that was supposed to assist the needy temporarily, but instead turned into a program that lures Americans into government dependence permanently in most cases?

The bottom line is that the explosion in the welfare state has made it easier for millions of low-income families to avoid working and stay home, existing on government benefits. The explosion in out-of-wedlock births and single parent families has pushed even more Americans into dependence on welfare programs. It’s that simple.

Add to this our aging population as the number of Baby Boomers retiring grows dramatically every year, which puts more and more strain on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.  Eventually, without some type of reform, there’s not enough money coming in to pay out the benefits due those that paid into the system, much less those living on welfare.

At the end of the day, the question is: Was this the result of misguided federal policy decisions, or was it by design? Is it possible that some of the more liberal lawmakers and the massive liberal lobbying groups that influence them want more Americans dependent on government support? After all, this helps to ensure that those dependent on the government will continue to vote to keep them in office.  That will have to be a discussion for another time. But it is a very interesting question to ponder in the meantime.

Gary D. Halbert is the president and chairman of Profutures, Inc.  Subscription rates for Forecasts & Trends is $197 for 12 issues and may be obtained by visiting his website at


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