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USA Today reports that a record number of Americans—one in six—are now dependent on government anti-poverty programs. Since the recession began in December 2007, the enrollment and cost of government programs have grown at an alarming rate.
In the past three years, Congress has routinely expanded the eligibility and benefits of these programs. In fact, Medicaid recipients have increased 17 percent to 50 million. As a result, the federal Medicaid price tag has increased 36 percent to $273 billion. Since the recession began, food stamps beneficiaries increased by nearly 50 percent to 40 million. The expansion of the program has cost taxpayers $70 billion—an increase of 80 percent. Additionally, more than 4.4 million people are dependent on welfare which has increased by 18 percent since 2007. Certainly, increased welfare eligibility has increased the cost of the program by 24 percent to $22 billion.
Due to media attention, Americans are well aware that Congress has extended unemployment benefits eight times. Currently, 10 million Americans are dependent on unemployment benefits which is four times higher than 2007. The cost of jobless benefits have risen to $160 billion from $43 billion—a 272 percent increase.
The Great Recession is a large reason for the rise in government anti-poverty programs. But what happens once the economy eventually (and hopefully) recovers? It is quite easy for politicians to expand benefits and eligibility to anti-poverty programs. Unfortunately, it is more difficult for politicians to rein in spending on these costly programs.
In the long term, the cost of these anti-poverty programs are unsustainable. By 2035, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that total spending for just Medicaid will increase from 5 percent of GDP to nearly 10 percent. Like virtually every government run program, Medicaid provides a low quality service that is more expensive than the private sector. At what point will politicians realize that America simply cannot afford to expand these costly and poor performing programs?
Often, government programs aimed at helping the poor do more harm than good. Unfortunately, many of these programs foster long term dependence. The Heritage Foundation has found that the majority of those who receive food stamps are long term unemployed dependents who have been on the program for many years or even decades. Ultimately, long-term welfare payments undermine work ethic. When you subsidize something, you will get more of it. Sadly, children raised in families on welfare are far more likely to remain dependent on government handouts throughout their adulthood. A study by Mary Corcoran and Roger Gordon at the University of Michigan found that holding multiple social variables constant, “receipt of welfare income has negative effects on the long-term employment and earnings capacity of young boys.”
Instead, we should strive for a society where all individuals are able to attain self sufficiency and economic independence. Congress should seek to reform government programs to increase personal responsibility and promote employment. In the end, the poor are much more likely to gain confidence and skills by earning their paycheck rather than receiving a government handout.
Lawmakers on the left tend to portray themselves as caring since they want to expand these government programs. However, spending other people’s money is not compassion. According to the Hill, members of Congress grew wealthier in 2009 despite economic downturn. The 50 wealthiest US lawmakers are worth an estimated $1.4 billion—nine out of the ten most wealthiest are Democrats. Yet, these elitist politicians call themselves “considerate” when they take money from taxpayers to give to others. Simply, that’s not your money to give. Genuine compassionate is when you reach into your own pockets to help out the less fortunate. Reaching into other people’s pockets and forcing them to pay for compulsory government “charity” is false philanthropy and should not be considered noble.
By increasing the eligibility and benefits of these anti-poverty programs, the government is luring more people into long term dependency. A record number of people being dependent on government programs will be harmful to America’s future prosperity. Instead, we should all strive to generously give to private charities that have a more successful track record of helping the poor. In order to revive self sufficiency and independence, lawmakers should also immediately foster job growth by cutting taxes and reducing spending.