Government Benefits And The Middle Class

Posted by | February 13, 2012 17:15 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

There was a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times portraying the dependence of conservative voters on government help.  While there is much anger on the right about the benefits to poor people, the numbers tell a different story.

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.

I took two things from this article.  The first: many of the people who complain about government spending would be much worse off without it.  What they are really complaining about is spending for others, not a very tenable argument.  The second is that there is some merit to the argument that government spending is out of control.  The target, though, (once defense spending is cut) should not be on programs that help the poor but rather first those that help the rich (particularly the tax breaks) and then those that help the middle class (particularly reforms to Medicare).  You’ll never hear a politician say that.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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