May 28, 2023

Bucks Blog: How Many Government Programs Have You Benefited From?

A man dressed as Uncle Sam in Brooklyn, N.Y.Getty ImagesUncle Sam pays a visit to Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mitt Romney stirred up a hornet’s nest with his comments about the 47 percent of Americans who he thinks are dependent on the government.

It turns out, according to 2008 data from the Cornell Survey Research Institute reported Monday in a Times opinion piece, that 96 percent of Americans have taken part in government benefit programs in one form or another.

Listed below are 21 programs referenced by the researchers. Numbers 1 through 13 are “direct,” meaning that the aid comes directly from the government; the remainder are considered “submerged,” in that they come indirectly, through government tax policies. (For instance, the money you put in your workplace 401(k) plan grows tax-deferred).

  1. Head Start
  2. Social Security Disability
  3. Social Security Retirement and Survivors Benefits
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  5. Medicaid
  6. Medicare
  7. Welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or T.A.N.F.)
  8. G.I. Bill
  9. Veterans’ benefits
  10. Pell Grants
  11. Unemployment Insurance
  12. Food Stamps
  13. Government Subsidized Housing
  14. Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  15. Hope and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits
  16. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  17. 529 accounts (qualified tuition programs) or Coverdell education savings account (Education I.R.A.’s)
  18. Earned-income tax credit
  19. Employer subsidized health insurance
  20. Employer subsidized retirement benefits
  21. Federal student loans

In an e-mail, Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, explained a bit more about the two forms of employer benefits (Numbers 19 and 20), saying they “are even more submerged than the other policies in that group, because unlike with the others, people take no actual steps to claim the government benefit. As long as one is acquiring those employer-provided benefits, one simply gets the tax benefit — if the employer put the same money in people’s paychecks, they would have to owe taxes on it.”

I personally have benefited from student loans, the home mortgage deduction and employer health and retirement benefits, and my children have 529 education savings plans. My dad went to college (proudly) on the G.I. Bill. My upbringing was middle class.

Take a look at the list and let us know: How many of these have you received or relied on? Are you poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or part of the 1 percent?

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