The Right Opinion

Spiraling State of Welfare Spending

Approaches hair-raising $1 trillion mark

By Edwin J. Feulner · Oct. 23, 2012

When the news from Washington contains words such as million, billion and trillion, it's all too easy for our eyes to glaze over. Numbers that big aren't easy to grasp. But in an era when the federal government continues to spend as if the party will never end, it's essential to try.

Here's one way to get a handle on those words, courtesy of Jim Bohannon, the popular radio host. He recently told me how to put them in perspective.

Take a single human hair, he said. A million of them laid side by side would stretch the length of an entire football field, end zone included. A billion human hairs? They'd stretch 63 miles. And a trillion – 63,000 miles. That's more than twice the circumference of the entire earth. It's 21 trips from New York City to Los Angeles. In short, it's a huge number.

Now you have some perspective for the latest news in annual welfare spending: It's approaching the $1 trillion mark. We're talking about more than 80 means-tested programs, comprising a maze of forms, bureaucrats and regulations – and, all total, they're close to hitting the magic number.

That's what the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported recently. Its findings echo what welfare analyst Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has been saying. According to Mr. Rector, roughly 100 million people – one-third of the U.S. population – receive aid from at least one means-tested welfare program each month. Average annual benefits come to around $9,000 per recipient.

The phrase “means-tested” refers, of course, to a recipient's means. He must demonstrate that his income falls below a certain defined poverty level to get aid, but then, as Mr. Rector has pointed out before, the aid is a handout, not a hand up. The main purpose of the 1996 welfare reform was to add a work requirement to the equation: If recipients were required to work (or at least be looking for work), welfare wouldn't become a way of life.

By the beginning of 2012, however, just four federal welfare programs had work requirements. Thanks to the Obama administration, that's down to two. The results were predictable: more people on welfare. For example, in 2009, work requirements were suspended for food stamps. Since then, the number of people on food stamps has doubled.

Wait, some may ask, how does this compare to what we spend on other parts of the budget? Surely this pales compared to what we spend on defense, right? Actually, it doesn't – just the opposite. In 1993, welfare spending surpassed what we spend on defense for the first time since the Great Depression. It's been climbing ever since.

Under the president's spending plans, by 2022 we'll be spending $2.33 on welfare for every $1 we spend on defense. (The ratio currently is $1.33 to $1.) Overall, President Obama plans to spend $12.7 trillion on means-tested welfare over the next decade.

The combined cost of Social Security and Medicare, at $1.2 trillion, is only slightly greater than the cost of means-tested welfare. This is striking because everyone knows Social Security and Medicare cost a lot, but the similar cost of means-tested welfare is generally hidden from public view.

Unsustainable debt is bad news, but we have to remember this isn't simply about dollars and cents. It's about people. After the 1996 reform, the number of welfare recipients in the primary welfare program (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) dropped by 50 percent as more people got jobs and learned to take care of themselves. Earnings and employment rose. Child poverty went down. Unfortunately, only one of 80 welfare programs was reformed, and now the Obama administration is abandoning that reform. Yet this obviously is the model we should be expanding – not eliminating – throughout the system.

Whoever wins the presidential race in November needs to take a hard look at the spiraling state of welfare spending or it won't be long before we need to calculate how far a quadrillion human hairs, laid side by side, would stretch.


Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

The problem with means-tested welfare programs is the recepients have come up with ways to get around them. If you have a vehicle worth more than the allowed value you don't qualify for welfare. What happens is they transfer the title into a friends or relatives name and continue to draw welfare they are not eligible for under the law. Ride through any subsidized housing area and look at the cars they are driving. It's easy to hide income when your paid under the table. They will work for less if you don't show them on the payroll and keep their earnings hidden. There is a major difference between welfare recepients and the working poor. The working poor make just enough not to qualify for welfare. The parasites live off the hard work of others and never contribute anything to the country, they only take.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 12:17 PM


Yes, explain to me how welfare recipients can buy their groceries with their LINK card - then take the same groceries and put them in a Cadillac Escalade??? How can they live so well on my income when I can't even live that well on my income?? Something has to change!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 1:38 PM

Mindblown in Flyover USA replied:

The answer is: You have EXPENSES -- They only have INCOME.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 3:20 PM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KYr replied:

I would add Sarge, that those others also include the working poor. So the parasites also live upon those who are just one rung up on the income ladder. Nice folks....

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Corey Mondello in Boston, MA said:

I have been trying to explain to those in RED states, that they are basically welfare states, enjoying the distribution of wealth and Socialism because RED states give less to the government but get more than Blue states, yet Blue states give more and get less. So funny to me so many conservatives like Palin and those like her call Obama a socialist when it is them who are benefiting from the distribution of wealth. Red States = Welfare States & Blue States = Funders of Red States Socialism, Welfare, Hand-Outs and Distribution of Wealth.

State-Local Tax Burdens Higher on Individuals Living in Blue States
By Jon Street
October 23, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

Please explain to me how I am benefitting if someone in my state is getting welfare. This premise is based on population of each state and with out a doubt those states with hgher population will pay more in taxes. I fail so see how this makes it all right for a class of people in this country to live off the hard work of others. Typical liberal response, use one idea to prop up another even if it is wrong. No able bodied person should be living off the sweat of others no matter how you spin it. This idea of the government being a sugar daddy takes away any incentive to better yourself when all you have to do is sit on your ass and enjoy the freebies paid for by those who get up everyday and go to work. What about their wants and needs? They have families to worry aboiut and it must hurt to know that your hard work is going to subsidize laxy ass parasites.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 6:53 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Sometimes, Ed, you have to get rid of a sick puppy, just to save the rest of the litter!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

I forgot to use spellcheck!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 6:54 AM

Greg Jackson in Houston, TX said:

How about a new means-testing approach? If the NATION can't afford it, we don't pay for it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 3:07 PM