Year after year, our culture of dependence grows

The best explanation for the tea party phenomenon is the overwhelming sense among so many Americans that our relationship between government and the governed has gotten out of whack.

But it has been easy for critics to pick at the movement because this sense, this feeling, has as many origins as the tea party has leaders. Just as there is no front man for the tea party, there has been no single fact or figure that tea partiers could point to and say, See this? This is what we’re talking about.

But the Heritage Foundation may have come close with the release last week, at an event in Buckhead, of its 2010 Index of Dependence on Government.

Heritage has compiled federal data on public spending dating back to 1962 on housing, health and welfare, retirement, education, and rural and agricultural services. The stalwart conservative institution then indexed them through the 2009 fiscal year.

The not-so-surprising result: Americans’ dependence on government is higher than ever.

One in five Americans — 64.3 million people — relies on government handouts to fulfill basic needs for housing, food and/or health care. That’s double the proportion before Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” and it doesn’t even include corporate welfare. Add the number of public workers, and almost three in 10 of us get our livelihood from government.

At the same time, two in five Americans in 2008 — 132.5 million people — did not pay federal income taxes and were not claimed as dependents by anyone who did. The percentage of nontaxpayers has nearly tripled since 1984.

The nontaxpayer figure has been kicked around in the press a fair amount, with detractors complaining that most of those millions do pay state and local taxes, including sales taxes. That’s true enough, although the federal figure is most vital since it’s at that level that most taxing, spending and public borrowing take place.

But the number of government dependents gets less discussion. That’s a mistake.

First, it’s a fiscal problem to have fewer than three taxpayers providing for each effective ward of the state, plus themselves and their own families.

The Social Security system alone says 2.9 workers are needed to sustain each retiree — a ratio that we’ve dipped below temporarily during the recession. We’re expected to fall permanently short of it by 2015. Multiply that gap by all government entitlements, and you see how precarious our situation is.

(An aside to those who bristle when I call Social Security an “entitlement”: Of course I know you paid payroll taxes, as I do now. I also know that these taxes won’t cover the benefits you and I are slated to receive.)

But perhaps more important, and just as animating to the tea party, is the effect the culture of dependence has on our national character.

One of the left’s most insidious canards is that you only care about helping someone if you support a federal program for them. That is true only to the degree that Washington has crowded out private charity.

As the Heritage authors wrote, “In the past, a person in need depended on help from people and organizations in his or her local community. …

“However, the dependent relationship with elements of the civil society includes healthy expectations of the recipient’s future civil viability and ability to aid another person in turn. The dependent relationship with the political system has no reciprocal expectations.”

Well, the politicians do expect votes. Still, the healthier kind of relationship is under ever-greater threat.

I’m sure critics will keep smearing the tea party as having darker motives. But if they don’t understand the importance of the dependence issue, they’ll still wonder what happened after the wave hits them.

243 comments Add your comment

Allyanaz

October 21st, 2010
6:41 am

Why would I not feel some sort of dependency on a government who has taken over 25% of my paycheck for the past 45 years? For that much money, I’d want something back…like my social security and police and fire protection. The tea party seems to think that if you are not a middle-class working American with a guaranteed steady job, you’re simply a slouch that refuses to work and will sponge off society. And if you fall, why ever would you need a safety net?

T-Town

October 21st, 2010
7:04 am

I’ve never seen so many with nothing to give, so ready to give freely what does not belong to them and call you out if you object to this fleecing.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
7:31 am

Since corporate subsidies are not listed as one of their components, I’m guessing that the Heritage Foundation does not think that the corporations are not dependent on the government. However, anytime someone mentions doing away with such subsidies, oil and gas for instance, there’s all kinds of arguments to support the need for them. Sounds like dependence to me, just like we’re dependent on OPEC for our oil. When they account for that dependence as well, I’ll believe in their research.

jt

October 21st, 2010
7:33 am

The former United Soviet States of Russia had the same problem.

GB

October 21st, 2010
7:35 am

Allyanaz:

There is a big difference between governmental services such as police and fire protection, which benefit everyone, and programs which redistribute income, which take from some people and give what is taken to others.

bo

October 21st, 2010
7:37 am

what does Jill Chambers (R) and all the constituents she says ask her for economic help think of the need for a safety net?

A Hearty Cheese Sauce

October 21st, 2010
8:06 am

Here Here…just confirms the uneducated masses prefer to remain that way.

JKL2

October 21st, 2010
8:08 am

Papa Obama will save us all. How dare you question the smartest man in the world.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
8:11 am

programs which redistribute income, which take from some people and give what is taken to others.

Sounds like a company that sells a product, then pays dividends to stockholders. Redistibution is relative.

JKL2

October 21st, 2010
8:20 am

soco- Redistibution is relative

Except for the one being giving to the owners as a return on their investment and one being forcibly taken by away from them by the government. No difference at all comrade.

Disgusted

October 21st, 2010
8:22 am

Forget “since 1962.” More and more, I’m hearing echoes of the Eisenhower years in the cries of the Tea Partiers and the Heritage Foundation—years when there was a very small safety net, and years when a school classmate of mine lived alone in a tarpaper shack on a cold hillside.

Feel free to move to some country where you can roam the jungle with a club and slug it out for the basic necessities. I’ll take what we have now, rather than the law of the jungle that the Tea Partiers, libertarians, and extreme conservatives want, thank you very much.

arnold

October 21st, 2010
8:24 am

“Keep the government out of my medicare and social security. Let’s just go back to the great depression with no safety net for anyone but the wealthy. I want my government back.”

I keep hearing those kinds of comments. Is there no longer a place for compassion?

JKL2

October 21st, 2010
8:27 am

arnold- Is there no longer a place for compassion?

It’s not the governments job to be compasionate, it’s your job. Stop abdicating your responsibility (and giving away our freedoms in the process).

jt

October 21st, 2010
8:30 am

Is there no longer a place for compassion?

It lies NOT at the business end of a gun.

arnold

October 21st, 2010
8:34 am

JKL2

October 21st, 2010
8:27 am

“It’s not the governments job to be compasionate, it’s your job. Stop abdicating your responsibility (and giving away our freedoms in the process).”

We are the government. It is our choice.

Klaus

October 21st, 2010
8:38 am

Maybe this is where the death panels should come into play. Muhahahah.

JKL2

October 21st, 2010
8:39 am

arnold- We are the government. It is our choice.

Actually the Constitution is pretty specific in what the government is allowed to do. It’s a shame people like our president spend all their time looking for loopholes and ways to get around it rather than just following what it says.

Skip

October 21st, 2010
8:41 am

Stop the madness, if Americans start helping Americans everybody will want to live here.

Scott

October 21st, 2010
8:45 am

First, this notion of the tea party as a “grass roots” movement is hogwash. Its a billionaire funded operation to gut regulation and lower taxes that would benefit said billionaires … the Koch Brothers. The only grass roots is grass roots stupidity and people acting like sheep believing everything they are told…and believing The Heritage Foundation which is funded by who? The Koch Brothers and Koch Industries that want to pay no taxes and pollute our environment without fear of any financial penalty. They are also funding Freedom Works as well as 10s of other “conservative” think tanks…just follow the money. These studies are written to provide the results they want…bottom line, fact. The New Yorker expose on the Koch guys was a real eye opener…you should all read it

real john

October 21st, 2010
8:47 am

The problem is how much entitlements one person receives. Between welfare, section 8 housing, food stamps, earned income tax credits, some of these people are taking a significant amount of money for long periods of time.

This is where the disconnect is. If you cannot take care of yourself; you shouldn’t be allowed to have 10 kids and leave off the government for your entire life…Oh, I know, I’m just one of the evil, heartless, Republicans

Don't Forget

October 21st, 2010
8:48 am

jt

October 21st, 2010
7:33 am
The former United Soviet States of Russia had the same problem.

:roll: need to get your terms straight.

RGB

October 21st, 2010
8:49 am

Ronald Reagan: “We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”

Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. “

Scott

October 21st, 2010
8:51 am

@BO
That net seems to be catching Jill right about now in her free fall…bet she is glad its there

RGB

October 21st, 2010
8:52 am

The U.S. Constitution is a real eye opener. You should read it.

joe

October 21st, 2010
8:53 am

The number #1 reason why our country is going to he!! in a hand basket and is in such trouble today. Our system just cannot support that many freeloaders. And in today’s society, those who are the “supported” ones actually feel entitled to that aid, instead of it being a temporary means to get them back to being self supportive. Add to that the piling on of illegal aliens who are here taking from the pot without putting anything of substance back in and the problem just gets that much worse. That is why the Tea Party has traction and somethings gotta give. Vote GOP next month to help turn this tide and get the job growth we need.

Tychus Findlay

October 21st, 2010
8:54 am

Compassion is an act of volunteerism. Coerced federal redistribution from the haves to the have-nots is thievery.

jconservative

October 21st, 2010
8:56 am

And dependence on government and government actions dips into the social issues. Millions want the Federal government to “fix” the same sex marriage issue. The Defense of marriage Act Clinton signed was a dependence on the central government to fix a perceived social issue.
I spent all summer listening to millions bitch because Obama did not clean up the oil spill in two weeks. Now, once again, there are calls for reducing taxes to stimulate jobs. Who first said it was the governments job to create jobs?

Americans are now glued to central government action. And as long as both the Republican and Democratic parties encourage that dependence, it will just continue to grow.

Baffled

October 21st, 2010
8:56 am

JKL2, before the ink could dry on the Constitution people have been looking for and finding loopholes. That’s the American way. Surely you are not suggesting we revert back to the Constitution of 1789, 1860, 1914, or 1971. Which Constitution JKL2? Think about it.

carlosgvv

October 21st, 2010
9:07 am

There was a time when people worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. There was no insurance, no vacation time, no Food and Drug Admn. no licensing for Doctors and Dentists, etc. It is deeply disturbing to realize that for many conservative leaders, those were considered the best of times. It is even worse to realize they would take all of us back to those kind of times in a second if they could.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
9:07 am

jcon @ 8:56

It’s not dependence when you want the government to do something you think is ok.

one being forcibly taken by away from them by the government

JLK2
Everyone always try to say that taxes are taken forcibly. That’s pure hogwash. If you don’t want to pay taxes, don’t work. You could even leave the US and go live and work somewhere else. If you live and work here, you pay taxes. That’s a fact of life. What’s not a fact is that it is forced. You always have choices. They may be choices that you don’t like, but there are always choices. Redistribution is nothing but an excuse. The economy is one big redistribution chain. You could argue that some of that is forced. If Atlanta had a decent transit system, I would not be forced to give BP, Exxon, or Shell part of my hard earned income every week.

Klaus

October 21st, 2010
9:07 am

Let them take their welfare check home after a month in the labor camp. Two birds, one stone.

Real Athens

October 21st, 2010
9:08 am

I saw someone mention Ike in an earlier post. Also the most comment here is made at 8:06 am

“Here Here…just confirms the uneducated masses prefer to remain that way.”

Federal Income Tax rates are at their lowest since 1952 – when Ike was in office (for some — like Nathan Deal — after exploiting tax loopholes, they pay at single-digit rates.

Some who operate legitimate goods and services, cash only businesses (like my father did for 30 plus years, pay no income taxes at all).

No one wants to pay taxes, but we all use services government provides.

End earmarks or any legislation that does not benefit the entire country (send fiscal responsibility back to state and local governments)
Simplify the tax code.
Publicly fund elections (so the common man can be represented).
End subsidies that keep prices for some goods artificially low.

A good start to getting our financial house in order.

Four simple ways to start to get our financial house in order.

Real Athens

October 21st, 2010
9:10 am

Should have proofread my last post, yikes! Read before send!

AmVet

October 21st, 2010
9:10 am

My mistake.

When I saw the headline, I thought this article was going to be about the MASSIVE government dependence of Archer, Daniels, Midland and Haliburton and BP and Global Tetrahedron Consolidated and on and on and on and on…

You know the Kings of Welfare…

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:15 am

This actually has to do with Kyle hemorrhage about his checking fees yesterday.

Kyle, you base your entire argument against the bill – set up to protect consumers on this one side effect? Checking fees?

A bank is a business and like any other business it does what it has to do to stay in business. In the current state of the “market” of banking, one option available for the banks to make money is to raise fees.

What they are doing – which you can’t seem to comprehend – is diverting any “public anger” to the federal government to take eyeballs and anguish off their act of raising fees. They don’t want the public mad at them for raising fees; they want the public mad at someone else – banks, democrats, people who use mousse in their hair, whoever is available!

This is a case of a company doing what it has to do to stay in business but not having the balls to take the blame for their actions. They are whining and pointing fingers at the government.

This is like all those who realize Republicans are about to vote into office a bunch of idiots/tea partiers/un-ethical people. But they vote for them anyway while whining about Democrats and shifting all blame to the pelosi/reid/obama camp. There is no personal responsibility for pushing that button in the election booth.

If your cell phone company starts charging a fee for a service you use what are you going to do? Blame the government? Yep. Typical republicans. Don’t bother finding a new carrier, don’t bother renegotiating your contract. Nah…just blame the government.

John

October 21st, 2010
9:16 am

@Scott,

Koch Industries is one of the “small businesses” Republicans are talking about when mentioning how small businesses would be affected if the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 were allowed to expire. Some small business with tens of thousands of employees.

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:21 am

Year after year, our culture of dependence grows

duh! And if we continue to elect officials who enact policies that kill off the middle class, we are going to see more and more dependent on other.

Keep allowing the wealthy to siphon money off the middle class. Yeah, that will help everyone! And when the wealthy have all the money they can offer us jobs at minimum wage with no benefits (their dream come true)! Yeah, we won’t be dependent at all at that point!

Richard Dawson

October 21st, 2010
9:24 am

Southern Comfort – that’s about the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. Drinking too much Southern Comfort, I guess.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
9:27 am

AmV

That’s not dependence. It’s only dependence when it’s the poor who are on welfare. The rich are not dependent. (sarc)

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:29 am

The best explanation for the tea party phenomenon is the overwhelming sense among so many Americans that our relationship between the haves and the have nots has gotten out of whack.

Fixed your typo.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
9:29 am

Richard Dawson

Any dumber than you coping the name of a tv gameshow host??? Life is full of choices. Just face it.

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:31 am

John

October 21st, 2010
9:32 am

“And when the wealthy have all the money they can offer us jobs at minimum wage with no benefits (their dream come true)! ”

Not exactly correct Finn McCool….they want to abolish minimum wages. Better yet, they want to ship our jobs overseas. The Chamber of Commerce, who is spending large amounts of money to unseat Democrats while hiding where their funding is coming from, has been hosting forums on how to ship our jobs overseas.

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:35 am

Well john, I wasn’t trying to go all realistic with the hopelessness that entails. Trying to stay a bit on the cheery side of the inevitable.

But, your point is true even though it’s depressing as hell.

A Hearty Cheese Sauce

October 21st, 2010
9:36 am

“Sounds like a company that sells a product, then pays dividends to stockholders. Redistibution is relative.”

Its called Capitalism my friend and the incentive for investing in such companies is a return on your investment. Then again being an Obama follower you would not know of such except with regard to welfare, foodstamps etc.

Southern Comfort

October 21st, 2010
9:38 am

Its called Capitalism my friend

You can call it Capitalism, Freedomism, or even Botulism, however it still needs for money to be redistributed through the chain for it to work.

Finn McCool

October 21st, 2010
9:39 am

Kyle, when I have the Masters degree and can get a job washing dishes – for a meal and maybe a couple of dollars – I will have it made in the shade!

Who needs benefits? who needs health care? That might cost the wealthy folks too much money. They don’t need me healthy when they can just grab another graduate-school educated guy for the same price. just work em until they drop and then grab another one off the corner!

A Hearty Cheese Sauce

October 21st, 2010
9:40 am

Sorry. The banks had other fees and sources of income eliminated by Obama and the Dems. You are correct in that the banks must make profit, however, the “shell game” is being played by the democrats.

Stu

October 21st, 2010
9:41 am

“programs which redistribute income, which take from some people and give what is taken to others.
Sounds like a company that sells a product, then pays dividends to stockholders. Redistribution is relative.”

What an unbelievable lack of thought, insight, effort and brain power.

One is voluntary, the other is not.

Keepin’ it real simple for a simpleton. Jeez, this place is so screwed.

A Hearty Cheese Sauce

October 21st, 2010
9:41 am

Well perhaps you should invest and enjoy what you call redistribution.