Monday, February 13, 2012

Safety net issues

Update February 17: Here's a link to Paul Krugman's column on this article, titled "Moochers Against Welfare." It's worth reading all the way through to his apt conclusion.

In case you missed it yesterday, or read it before you had your coffee, take a look at this NY Times article about the increasing reliance on government programs around the United States. The reporters took a hard look at entitlement programs and who uses them. The tables are pretty good, and the interactive charts are even better, allowing readers to click on any county in the US and to see transferred income per capita, the share the transfer income is of all income in the county, and a comparison to the US average. The takeaway is that everyone uses government entitlements, including those who object to them.

Here's a screenshot of the map, showing Sumter County, Alabama, which I chose randomly:


The maps also break out different entitlements programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Income Support, Veterans Benefits, and Unemployment Insurance. (It would have been helpful if the Times had included numbers of people receiving benefits, but they didn't.) And the article includes a nice statement by a political scientist about how the states that receive more benefits than they pay in taxes tend to vote Republican, while states that pay out more than they receive tend to vote Democratic.

There's an argument being made that the inclusion of veterans benefits is a mistake, as they are earned by service to the country, and in any case drive up payment of government benefits in the south. I disagree with the first point (and let me be clear, I am not arguing against payment of benefits to veterans, I just see no reason not to include them in this analysis). As for the second, according to the Times, veterans benefits account for only 0.4% of personal income in 2009, compared to 17.6% for all government benefits. That's too small to drive any of these numbers.  There has been a series of articles recently about the transformation of the VA medical system into a model of good care. Here's one from a couple of years ago.

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