Holy Crap!

I was just half-watching Fox News (Shep Smith is annoying, but he can be entertaining on occasion), and they tossed out a little factoid that left me positively gobsmacked. As a bit of background on the federal debt ceiling situation, they noted that during the month of June, the government issued checks (or equivalents) for Medicare, Social Security, active duty and retired military, Disability/SSI, and Food Stamps. 211,800,000 checks.


Over two hundred and eleven million checks. Two hundred and eleven million checks for people who depend on the government for their income. And that’s not even counting civilian employees.


Let’s knock off active duty military. According to Wikipedia, there’s about 3 million (rounded up) between the active duty forces and the reserves — and I’ll presume that the “factoid” included reserves. The best number I can find for the number of military retirees says about 620,000, but I’ll round that up, too, and call it 800,000 just to simplify matters slightly. However, I consider these “payment for services rendered,” and will argue like hell that it qualifies as an “entitlement.” That leaves 208 million checks.


Now, Social Security retirement checks. The lie we’ve all bought into (literally) is that it’s an insurance policy, and we get back money we pay into it. I’ll pretend I believe that for the sake of this argument. The last number I can find is from 2009, and it says there were about 52.5 million checks each month. I’ll extrapolate and fudge and round up (fancy talk for “one step above pulling numbers out of my ass”), and say it’s now 54 million checks. That leaves 154 million checks.(Yeah, I’m rigging the numbers to make my point here. The precise numbers aren’t important, as long as they’re in the ballpark, and each of my fudges actually weakens my argument slightly. Honest.)


150 million checks, divided among Medicare, Disability/SSI, and Food Stamps. These are out-and-out “entitlements” — aid to those who cannot care for themselves for whatever reason. They have not “earned” these payments, as military and Social Security recipients have.


OK, another fudge factor here. I have absolutely no rationale for this number, I’m completely pulling this one out of my ass. But I understand that a lot of people receive multiple forms of support — the requirements for Food Stamps and Medicare have considerable overlap. So let’s pick a number out of the air and say the average recipient of one of these programs actually gets 1.5 checks. (If anyone has better numbers, I’ll cheerfully thank them and adjust the following numbers.)


That means that those 154 million checks go to 77 million people.


And with the current US population being 312 million people, that means that essentially one in four Americans gets some kind of public support.


One in four.


One in four.


And it’s always going up.


If that doesn’t freak you the hell out and scare the crap out of you, then nothing will.

But if you'd rather charge at windmills and celebrate a glorious loss, that's your affair, I suppose.
What's Norwegian for "Dear John?"
  • Anonymous

    Well, there’s roughly 13% over the age of 65 (about 40 million).  Many military retirees took civilian government jobs after they retired, and get retirement benefits both from the military, civilian government and social security.  So there’s a cadre out there getting three US Government checks a month (or, as in my father’s case, four due to surviving spouse benefits).  So you can settle down a little.  But just a little.

  • Anonymous

    Of course then you have to figure all the once a year earned income credit checks that go out, so maybe its really worse.

  • retired.military

    Income tax checks are probably a part of that as well.

  • Anonymous

    “These are out-and-out “entitlements” – you probably were thinking of Medicaid, not Medicare… not that Medicare’s receipts/payouts are actually based on sound actuarial tables.

  • It’s worse than you think.  Think of all the people who work for companies that provide goods/services to the government.  We’re probably talking 50% of the population suckling the federal teat in some form or fashion.


  • Anonymous

    I have to first say I agree with you about Shep. What an annoying news reader and he doesn’t even do that well. I lost complete trust in him during Katrina, when he rambled on about 10K dead, vicious rapes, etc.

    I used to agree that Medicare and SS were not entitlements but now that people live longer, they exhaust their contributions. But had the government left the surpluses alone, it would not even be a concern.

    The volunteer military deserves everything they get. The rest, that is where the waste and fraud it. ww

  • PBunyan

    A couple issues with your calculations Jay.   First Medicare is more comparable to Social Security.  Medicaid is comparable to Food Stamps.  Also Medicare payments don’t go to the people they go to the care providers.  One person can have several doctors, etc., who would each get a payment.  Although, I’m not sure, but Medicare and Medicaid payments might be bundled so each care provider gets one check for however many patients they see.  Or each hospital gets one check for all their Medicare and Medicaid patients that month.  If that’s the case then it’s even worse than what you’ve calculated.

  • PBunyan

    Also, Food Stamps (now called SNAP) payments don’t go directly from the federal government to the recipients, they go to the states, so the federal government should only be writing 50 checks for those.

  • Anonymous

    There’s another way to look at this.  Using the latest (2009) U.S. Census Bureau number 44.4% of the U.S. population lives in a household that receives some form of government assistance.  The Heritage Foundation Index of [Government] Dependency  calculation is complicated but it essentially involves analyzing 5 principal areas of government “support”:  retirement, housing, healthcare/welfare, higher education, and rural ag services.  The index value (2009) has grown by 15x (19 vs 279) since 1962.  All of these indicators and others – for example, 50% of income tax filers pay no or negative income tax – indicate that the U.S. population is heavily addicted to government cheese.

    For anyone who has checked out a few episodes of TV reality show Intervention, the subject addict is psychologically and physically unable to accept the intense and painful rehabilitation process unless the person has mentally “hit bottom.”  The U.S. population is still a looong way from getting gobsmacked by the reality of its debt and entitlement addiction, I’m sorry to say.  How much longer this situation of societal debt growing faster than its income can last is unknown.  But there is no visible area of world stability now that could serve as an anchor, such as the U.S. provided to Europe in the 1920s, at least until the Hoover-FDR Progressives put the U.S. economy into a decade long failed social experiment 1930-40.