As millions of citizens become ever more desperate, they do what they must to survive. That's understandable, and the depth and prolonged nature of the current economic mess has pushed millions of Americans onto government assistance that previously would have never considered even asking for help. Some of the trends are startling. They raise questions both about the proper role of government and fiscal limitations, but they also raise the issue of whether there has been a change in the character of the once staunchly self-reliant, independent, personally responsible American citizen.
More than 46 million Americans – about 1 out of every 7 people - now rely on food stamps – a 32% increase in the number of recipients just since the recession supposedly ended in June 2009. (See chart below) However, because of mandated increases in benefits that were part of Obama's Stimulus, higher food costs, and more recipients, total federal spending on the food stamp program has more than doubled in four years; from $39 billion in 2008 to $81 billion this year.
Increasingly, as unemployment benefits are exhausted, Americans are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance, SSDI. Ever since Congress relaxed the eligibility rules for Disability Benefits in 1984 there has been a growing number of recipients. However, as the following chart demonstrates, a virtual explosion has suddenly occurred over the last four years, and it shows no sign of easing. In just the first four months of 2012, 539,000 joined the disability rolls and more than 725,000 applications were submitted. Note that for every one job created (2.3 million) since the recession officially ended in June 2009, more than two people went on disability (4.7 million).
Source: Investor's Business Daily, April 20, 2012
More than 5 million people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks; nearly twice the previous high for long term unemployment during a recession. "We see a lot of people applying for disability once their unemployment insurance expires," said Boston College economist Matthew Rutledge. Unfortunately, few people that ever qualify for SSDI benefits ever return to the workforce, which even the White House admits can result "in a loss to society of the economic contribution those workers could have made."
Like all other entitlement programs, SSDI is facing a financial crisis. The trust fund is scheduled to go bankrupt in 2018. SSDI recipients, regardless of age, are automatically eligible for Medicare benefits after two years, as well, which accounts for 15% of Medicare's total budget. Medicare will be insolvent in 2020 according House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
After decades of gorging at the socialist, big government trough much of Europe is facing a financial crisis. The variety of overly generous entitlements and welfare programs combined with lackluster economic performance threatens to bankrupt the continent. Intoxicated by the nanny state's benevolence and unwilling to take the cure for their addiction, the Europeans seem to be rejecting austerity measures that might at least prolong – if not preserve– their continued existence. The similarities between the European experience and America are all too obvious, and a day of reckoning is rapidly approaching for the U.S. What kind of people are we really? And, what kind of nation will we leave the next generation – if a nation at all? The questions are real, profound, and unavoidable. And, they are really what the 2012 election is all about.