Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute posted an interesting table on his blog today. Subtracting each state’s poverty rate from its participation rate in federal welfare programs (as compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies), Mitchell found what he calls “a measure of how many non-poor people are signed up for income-redistribution programs,” a.k.a. the Moocher Index. (Hint: If you’re looking for Georgia, you have to scroll down almost to the bottom.)
It’s a fairly unscientific exercise, and Mitchell notes a number of caveats in his blog post. But it is interesting because it appears to turn on its head the conventional wisdom that Southerners, while claiming to be conservative, also take a disproportionate amount of money from the feds.
In absolute-dollar terms, that may still be true. But Mitchell’s Moocher Index suggests that the propensity of non-poor people in many Southern states to enroll in welfare programs is actually quite low compared to the rest of the nation. That in turn seems to undermine the idea that individual Southerners are hypocritical in their view of federal funds. More people down here truly don’t take from the very programs they criticize.