• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Chart of the Week: 1 in 5 Americans Are Dependent on Government

    The number of Americans dependent on the federal government has exploded over the past five years, reaching a record 67.3 million people, according to Heritage’s annual Index of Dependence on Government. That means 1 in 5 Americans (21.8 percent) today receive some level of assistance from the federal government.

    This week’s chart — one of 15 featured in this year’s report — depicts the percentage of the U.S. population who receive government assistance and the total number of individuals who are dependent on the federal government.

    Fifty years ago, before President Lyndon Johnson created the Great Society programs, some 21.7 million people (or 11.7 percent of the population) received assistance through government programs that existed at the time. The number increased sharply in the 1960s and 1970s before falling in the 1990s. Recently, however, it has skyrocketed.

    “Americans should be concerned about this seemingly relentless upward march in Index scores,” wrote Heritage authors Bill Beach and Patrick Tyrrell. “Dependence on the federal government for life’s many challenges strips civil society of its historical and necessary role in providing aid and renewal through the intimate relationships of family, community, and local institutions and local governments.”

    Reversing the trend won’t be easy, but there are solutions. Heritage’s plan, Saving the American Dream, reforms government programs in a way that would significantly reduce the growth of dependence on government.

    Posted in Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    40 Responses to Chart of the Week: 1 in 5 Americans Are Dependent on Government

    1. polypolitical says:

      Am I the only one who sees that we are still below the peak from 1994? I agree that too many people are dependent on the government, but in reality this chart shows a remarkable stability in the percentage of the population that are dependent on the government (post-Great Society, that is…obviously the numbers rose during the 1970s during implementation of the GS programs) Since 1975 or so, it is clear that between 20 and 23% of the population has been on the dole. Can we stop with the sensationalism, Heritage? This is why the majority of the country, though worried about our direction, isn't mobilized: It is intellectually dishonest to claim that there is something dangerously unprecedented int his chart, when in reality it shows a terrible status quo.

      • The Realist says:

        Bottom line – we stand a much better chance of climbing out of this mess if we address the spending problem rather than spending the country into oblivion. The Obama -Saul Alinsky ideology cannot get him to stop spending, demagoguing and lying about his record and economic statistics. Harry Reid admits that he won’t allow a vote on any bill on his desk until after the election. The House has between 30 and 40 bills designed to improve economic conditions and provide jobs that are sitting on Reid’s desk and he refuses to even bring them out for debate. Obama is more concerned with satisfying his Unions, Minority, Environmental, Soros, Buffet, Media Matters, and Wall Street supporters than improving any energy or economic condition for the people of this country. He has grown the size of government beyond belief and has raised most of the government workers’ salaries to the maximum permitted in order to secure that loyal base. These so-called Green Energy companies run by Obama’s cronies and bundlers to whom Obama gave our tax money. Most of them have since, or are in the process of, going down the tubes while those cronie bigwigs are taking home millions of our tax dollars. Why do the drones refuse to see this? The Democrats are afraid to let their views be known (via a vote on a bill) for fear of alienating either Pelosi or their liberal voting base and contributors. Many of those Democrats don’t like what the party leaders are doing either and I’m glad to see that some of them are going public about it. The GOP is at least doing everything they can to try to cut spending and Balance the Budget. Let’s work off a Baseline budget rather than a budget that automatically increases by 8 to 9 percent every year. The Democrats will never go for a Balanced Budget since they won’t be able to satisfy their base with more and more never-ending government handouts. If the GOP wants to reduce the rate of increase by 4% for any program the Democrats demonize them for wanting to throw grandma off the cliff, or claiming they don’t care about clean air, clean water, or a zillion other talking points. The Democrat-run Senate won’t even follow the rule of law and present a yearly budget; it’s been over 3 years since they’ve presented a budget. By not presenting a budget they just spend the money on any and all social programs they want; like those useful HHS inspectors to police the lunch bags of little kids, and those EBT cards. Obama needs to keep spending, lying, and promising everything to boost his voting base in order to try to get re-elected. There might just be enough drones out there to make that happen, and were all doomed if he gets re-elected. He can’t run on his record, and both Obama and the lame-stream media (who are predominantly liberal and back the socialist president) would never say anything about broken promises and falsification of unemployment rates and other economic data. The Democrats and this president make me sick.

      • Big Bazinga says:

        Really? What is it about a growing population and a "percentage" that you don't understand? Why don't you try constructing a spreadsheet with the estinmated annual population, then calculate the numbers of free-loaders based on the percentages they provide? Good grief….we're doomed.

      • Silence Dogood says:


        And God bless Bill Clinton — the best Republican president we've had — for making the greatest reduction in the percentage of Americans on the dole, and bringing that percentage down from that well-known Socialist Ronald Reagan.

        Maybe I was missing something, but I don't recall Heritage singing Clinton's praises at the time…

        Figures lie and liars figure.

        Silence Dogood

      • George Gallo says:

        The left chart does not suggest nearly so much degradation as one would believe. The right one called the "index" needs a dose of explanation since it is clearly a cause for concern. I doubt that much traction will be gained in using it versus the more lurid figures of multiplying debt and deficits.

    2. @RsForObama says:

      If Heritage wants to get rid of the G.I. Bill, veterans benefits, the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, Medicare, Social Security and education savings accounts, it should just say so.

      • Guest says:

        Typical obama-cRAT. Put the blame on something/one else. Here's the problem: Too many people want something for nothing. I live in a city where 30% of the people get food stamps then sell them for drugs. If there is more than 1% of the population on the dole then there is something wrong. Hunger is a great motivator.

    3. Tony1941 says:

      Until we follow FDR's recommendation an eliminate public employee unions, cap the amount of federal money allocated to safety nets, and make unemployment benefits to be paid by fees on worker and companies, the spiral into a financial black hole will continue.

    4. Lady Liberty says:

      Just wondering if you are supportive of the only constitutional and qualified candidate, Ron Paul 2012? Thank you! We need to support his efforts as the economics, constitutional,, and historic scholar and voting record, with service to our nation, as the President for 2012! :) Thank you!

    5. Annie says:

      Cause for a lot of pause; because I'm in that 20%. i've examined my ability to rejoin the work force and sustain myself, which I'd prefer to do than receive a monthly check. But, alas, I'm totally disabled and unable to maintain employment at this time. I like to think that part-time work is available, but I'm not holding my breath. Too many able-bodied want the positions I could barely do.

      • james says:

        Every state has a vocational rehabilitation office that helps people who are social security find work, even part-time jobs. You ought to check it out for your state.

      • Deb says:

        Annie, it is deserving people like you are going to suffer from all the abuse. The programs were designed to afford you quality of life due to your deabilitating situation. Unfortunately, other people have found a way to scam the system and are taking from those in our society who should be getting the benefits.

    6. Dan says:

      Does this number include veterans receiving benefits in one form or another from the VA?

    7. Marsh says:

      Question: Do the charts include contributions to Medicare and the prescription drug plan?

    8. boltach says:

      I would like to see what percentage of the population that was dependent on the federal government before 1913 (federal reserve). And another on those who are dependent on state government if possible

    9. Wes Locke says:

      If we allow this to continue… "Thar be trouble ahead mateys!"

    10. mary says:

      I'd love to see a breakdown of this. How many on Medicare/Medicaid vs. on food stamps, ADC, etc. Also would be nice to see a comparison from about 10 years ago.

    11. Look to Greece and see what happens when the politicians after promising for decades a utopian society, runs out of money. With one in five dependent upon government, 47% paying no federal income tax a Greek like scenario in America is around the corner. Ronald Reagan said; the best social program is a job.

    12. AKB says:

      Tell your editor that the heading should be "One in ten Americans IS dependent" as one is the subject of the sentence, not Americans

    13. Newton G says:

      Isn't this the ultimate goal of the Marx…I mean democrats?

    14. George USAF / says:

      What is the meaning of government "assistance". Does it include Social Security? How about Military retirement? I receive both of these checks from the government. Am I encluded in the 1 in 5?

      • George Gallo says:

        Military retirement does not belong in the analysis. That is deferred pay for service rendered, same as in the private sector. It does affect budgets and maybe politics but not shame. Social Security, being now a Ponzi is partly culpable but not to the degree of other entitlement dependencies by the fact that it was contributory.

    15. Daune says:

      I'm torn when I see articles like this. I know that we have to do something about Social Security and Medicare, but when writing articles I think it would be much more accurate to emphasize that the government owes too much to people on SS and Medicare, rather than to classify these elderly citizens as "dependent" on the government. Please remember that we, in essence, have a contract with them – one which required them to pay (for their entire working life) into what was supposed to be a guaranteed retirement fund. I realize that we will have to change that contract with them because otherwise there will be nothing to pay any of them, but we can at least show them the respect of not lumping them in with people who pay nothing but expect everything.

      • Bobbie says:

        Where is the "Like" button? (to Daune)

      • Deb says:

        There is simply too much abuse with social programs. One could fault physicians and the government. Many undeserving people get placed on SSDI and are never policed. They collect from us the taxpayers and then moonlight on the side. It is unfortunate because the individuals, such as the mentally disabled, veterans, and elderly are going to suffer the consequences of those who have fraudly accepted these benefits in order to stay at home on our dime.

    16. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Again, it's all part of Obama's plan that was hatched in the 60's by Cloward & Piven, along with Obama's friends in the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers and Berardine Dohrn. To overload the welfare system which they hoped would collapse the entire economical system of this nation.

    17. Loudmouth Elephant says:

      Why do democrats favor redistributive tax programs even when they know these kind of programs kill incentive?? The answer: VOTES! See this simple analysis, pass it on before the election in November: http://loudmouthelephant.blogspot.com/2011/11/pro

    18. Charles Benninghoff says:

      The basis of this item is wrong: you CANNOT exclude government (state, local and federal) employees. Add those individuals in (along with their dependents) and we exceed 40%. With this level of government-dependent individuals, our Republic is doomed to bankruptcy. Hopefully the next generation will have learned the lesson: Bread and Circus does not work.

      • George Gallo says:

        Right you are, there is no functional partitioning of what is dispensed by individual states as entitlements and that originating Federally. Some of the state parts were "matched" by the Feds anyway in varying proportion. I tend to believe that the figure of how many financial decisions are made by the public sector versus the private sector is an important statistic, an index of how thoroughly socialistic or statist we have become. France is well over fifty percent. It means that you are surrendering your income to the state and hoping to see a portion of it return to you. Essentially that you work for the government half of your work year (which we do). If we were not writing IOUs on forty percent of our expenditures and paying as we went that would be well into late August.

      • Tim Ruch says:

        You assume that salaries paid to Government employees are an unrewarded burden because you receive no benefit from public education, you don't use roads or sidewalks, you get water from a whole in your back yard, you have the medical skills and the stockpile of supplies unnecessary to treat any potential medical emergency, you have developed a completely independent fire suppression system that negates your reliance upon any of those vestiges of Government, you grow everything that you eat relieving you of any responsibility for the transportation of essentials over public (that's who this 'Government' guy is) roads, or be protected by that Government police force just so you can get home with yours unmolested. You don't need them. You have that Colt that Samuel built all by himself and that you bartered for with products that you made from natural resources found right here on your own little piece of God's earth. Damn! You are the real thing! So self reliant that you don't owe a dang thing to anybody but you. After all, You Built It.

    19. This shows how bad it is becoming as an American. Yet our President keeps telling us that the economy is coming back. Nancy Pelosi told us this good news because gov't payouts help the economy more than jobs( until they run out).

    20. steve h says:

      We have to do something about these elderly and disabled! Can't we just ship them to Europe?

    21. Carol,AZ says:

      "1 in 5 Americans dependent on the Govt.:"

      Go back and research your statement.. What % of all programs you listed are really Americans?
      Once you have satisfied that part of the equation you may get my attention.

    22. Scott Brooks says:

      The problem is:

      What percent of these entitlements are given to those who could get by with a change of lifestyle.

      What percent of these entitlements are given to non citizens?

      I think that the safety net of social security should go to those who are most needy. social security and medicare should be structured in private accounts with a government safety net for those who fall on hard luck or times.

      Of course immigration reform is sorely needed with a strong boarder security program and states rights on illegal immigration acknowledgement. And end government financial support to groups like Acorn and Lrosa!

    23. Deb says:

      I truly feel if we don't stand up and speak out for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness today, we will be living in a very different America on 7 Nov. The social engineering that exists today under President Obama is alarming. Liberty is never more than one generation from extinction. We need to stop the spending, balance the budget, lower taxes, create jobs, support a stronger military, prevent ballooning deficits, and reduce government and government dependency. There is so much abuse of the system. I do not want to pay for programs such as Big Bird and others that really do not have an impact on society. If you like Big Bird, make a donation. I do not want to pay for individual's birth control. If you want to engage in sexual activities, buy condoms. When it is every going to end???? I unapologetically promote faith, family, and freedom and will vote for the candidates who share my values.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.