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Earlier this year, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that Americans losing their jobs due to ObamaCare should be thankful. “At the beginning of this year,” he said, “we noted that as part of this new day in health care, Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Is the Obama Administration really trying to help Americans by putting them out of work, or is it just trying to create more voters by trapping them in a welfare state they are unable to escape? Trends over the last two decades indicate the latter.
As reports revealed late last year, the Census Bureau suggested that the number of those receiving means-tested welfare benefits exceeded the number of employees in the labor force for the first time in 2011, with 108 million people living in households that received benefits next to 102 million individuals who were employed.
Of those who were employed, 2,854,251 worked for the federal government, while 3,779,258 worked for state and local governments. Translated, this means that of all those who were either working or receiving welfare, only 43 percent were not directly reliant on state or federal government for their income.
At the same time, voter turnout in presidential elections has consistently increased over the last five presidential elections. In 1996, 49 percent of the voting age population turned out. It rose to 50.3 percent in 2000; 55.7 percent in 2004; 57.1 percent in 2008; and 57.5 percent in 2012.
The increase in civic participation has corresponded with a massive expansion of the welfare state. In 1990, means-tested welfare spending constituted $215 billion in spending by state and federal governments. That rose to $434 billion in 2000; $714 billion in 2008, after eight years of President Bush; and $1.03 trillion in 2011.
How substantial have means-tested welfare programs been as part of federal spending? A paper authored by Robert Rector and Jennifer Marshall puts it in perspective:
Since the beginning of the War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, government has spent $19.8 trillion (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars) on means-tested welfare. By comparison, the combined cost of all the wars in American history — from the Revolutionary War through the current war in Afghanistan — has been $6.98 trillion (in 2011 dollars). The War on Poverty has thus cost three times as much as all of our real wars combined.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the presidential election of 1960 facilitated the highest voter turnout of any presidential election since 1908, registering at 62.8 percent.
Similarly, states with high welfare benefits see higher voter turnout as well. Minnesota, which had 78 percent of voters turn out for the 2008 presidential election, was praised by one CNN piece for a “civic-minded culture” that encourages voter participation. One feature of Minnesota encouraging that civic-mindedness is its state government’s policies forcing more people on to means-tested benefits than any other state in the Midwest: Recipients receive up to $31,603 tax-free dollars each year.
Unemployment does leave more time for doing other things—like going to vote. Yet from the perspective of Americans entering this brave new world, Obama’s vision may look more like an American nightmare than the American dream.