Bill Clinton once declared, "The era of big government is over." Both Republicans and Democrats applauded.
What a joke.
Government grew under Clinton, and grew even faster under his successor. Government is so big today that more than half the population gets a major part of its income from the state.
So says a study by economist Gary Shilling. Shilling, a Springfield, N.J., consultant and forecaster, says the portion of Americans feeding substantially at the public trough stands at 52.6 percent. In 2000, it was 49.4. It seems unbelievable that in 1950, only 28.3 percent of Americans lived off the taxpayers. Shilling projects 60 percent by 2040.
One out of five Americans works for some level of government or for a firm that depends on taxpayer financing. One in five also draws Social Security or a federal pension. That number will grow as the baby boomers move on to Social Security, which, let's not forget, is a transfer program.
Among other recipients of largess: Nine million are on food stamps, 2 million received housing subsidies, and 5 million go to school on the federal taxpayer. In Shilling's reckoning, dependents of recipients are also part of the group he calls "government beneficiaries."
Wasn't the welfare system reformed in 1996? On the surface, yes. Cash payments are available only for a limited time and recipients are expected to work eventually. Millions of women once on welfare have gone to work. But the idea that the taxpayer has gotten a break or that overall dependency has decreased is a myth. As the AP reported: "The welfare state is bigger than ever despite a decade of policies designed to wean poor people from public aid. The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor -- including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits -- are bursting with new enrollees. The result ... is that nearly one in six persons rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago."
The handouts go to the well off, too. Farm programs and corporate subsidies benefit big farmers and big business, and wealthy people draw large Medicare benefits. The Cato Institute says there are nearly 1,700 federal subsidy programs spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
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