Half of Americans Who Get Government Aid Say They Don’t

Half of Americans who receive government aid in the form of social services believe that they have not “used a government social program.” These include:

  • 53.3 percent of those who’ve received federal student loans
  • 51.7 percent of those who’ve received child and dependent care tax credits
  • 43 percent of those who’ve received unemployment insurance
  • 39.8 of those who’ve received Medicare
  • 28.7 of those who’ve received Social Security Disability
  • 25.4 of those who’ve received food stamps

As Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing comments,

It’s the “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” phenomena writ large: a society of people who subsist on mutual aid and redistributive policies who’ve been conned (and conned themselves) into thinking that they are rugged individualists and that everyone else is a parasite.

You can see the full chart at the BoingBoing post and also read the original academic paper they’re from, “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era” by Cornell’s Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions Suzanne Mettle entitled. (The chart is on page 809).

Mettle’s paper looks at how Obama’s policy objectives have primarily involved “attempts to reconstitute the submerged state.” She  defines this notion of a “submerged state” — as government at work for us, however unaware we are — as

a conglomeration of federal social policies that incentivize and subsidize activities engaged in by private actors and individuals. These feature a variety of tools, including social benefits in the form of taxbreaks for individuals and families; the regulation and taxfree nature of benefits provided by private employers,including health care benefits in the form of insurance;and the government-sponsored enterprises and third-party organizations that receive federal subsidies in exchangefor carrying out public policy goals, such as the banks and lending associations that have administered student loans.

According to Mettle, the “submerged state” has reshaped politics in two ways, by “[nurturing]  particular sectors of the market economy [which] ..  have in turn invested in strengthening their political capacity for the sake of preserving existing arrangements.” Second, the policies  of the “submerged state” have “shrouded the state’s role, making it largely invisible to most ordinary citizens, even beneficiaries of existing policies” — and resulted in the many Americans who receive benefits from government social programs, but do not believe that they have. This discrepancy between many Americans viewing themselves as “not needing government help” and the reality that many have actually received such is indicative, says Mettle, of how unaware the public is of such policies, and of how significant Obama’s reform efforts are.

On GOOD magazine, Nona Willis Aronowitz — after pointing to reports of Michele Bachmann’s husband getting farm subsidies and also, reportedly, $137,000 in Medicaid money —  makes a thoughtful point about what the above figures say about our culture of “rugged individualism”:

…the point isn’t really whether or not these people are hypocrites or uneducated or ungrateful; more compelling is why they’d see themselves as exceptions. Shame about government help is ingrained into our culture, and so is the narrative of the “culture of dependence.” It’s not only rightwingers and deficit hawks who feel this way. When my contract position ended temporarily, it didn’t even occur to me to apply for unemployment to fill the gap until my father suggested it to me. When I waved him off, feeling embarrassed, he balked. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “That’s what those deductions on your paychecks were for.”

We’re on the verge of forgetting (if we haven’t already) that our government isn’t just taking our tax dollars for “its own” purposes. “Its own” purposes are ours — we just prefer not to remember until we’re really in need.

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Photo by soukup


W. C
W. C1 years ago

Thank you.

William C
William C2 years ago


Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

LD B7 years ago

Funny how so many, including some in this thread, seem to believe that whatever they receive from governments is no more than they paid for.

Lacking for mathematical skills, critical thinking, or both?

Danielle K.
Danielle K7 years ago

Firstly: The article makes me worry...what happened to the US Education system :) How can people not realise what comprises government aid?
Secondly: Certain anti-Republican trolls keep posting the same story repeatedly.
I am not saying I am pro-Republican, I'm an outsider - but this is getting boring!
Let's try IGNORING them until they can actually provide FACTS
That means: links to reputable websites and studies. Don't play their game...

Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

I DO my own research and have never found a word of what you claim. Again, this means it is just your opinion, not fact. Funny how you also quickly change the subjectand now so will I. I have heard too many companies boasting how competitive they are when it comes to the treatment of employees, always one-sided and grossly inaccurate.Then there are the ones who compare themselves to other unscrupulous companies, to that I say just because you aren't the worst doesn't mean you are good.

Mike Chrissie
Mike Chrissie7 years ago

sorry Patrick, do your own research. As far as employees go we pay a fair wage for work preformed, competitive benefit package and have very low employee turnover. WE treat our employees with respect and those who don't meet our standards are given the opportunity to find employment elsewhere.
We also pay for our employees continuing education, if they learn a skill set that we can't use we help them find other employment while continuing to work for use.
We also have a profit sharing plan which we stock with 10% of our taxable profits and distribute based on years of service. Senior management does not partisipate.
If you folks are not happy doing what your doing go get a different skill set, it's a free country and the only thing holding you back is yourself, anyone has the right to be successful, but there is risk, everyone also has the right to fail.

Lynne B.
Lynne Buckley7 years ago

Sigh. It's unreal that so many people have absolutely no idea about what the government provides. It's even worse to think how these people will cope if the Republicans take away everything that they don't think that they use.

Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

No Mike, I ASKED you for facts and again you spew your opinion. If I hated facts, then I wouldn't ask for them. Just because you state something, doesn't make it a "fact". Or is it just that you think if you put "Fact:" in front of what you say, that makes it true? The only TRUE FACTS come from impartial sources, not some Republican propagandist. I'll bet you think as an employer that anything your employees get from you is out of the goodness of your heart too.

Mike Chrissie
Mike Chrissie7 years ago

Patrick F. I give you facts and you respond with a guess and an opinion'
Here are some more facts and I know liberals hate facts: during the first 2 years of the obama presidency he never mentioned the national debt,when he had a veto proof congress and spending us into bankrupt state,; fact, the president set up acommission on debt reduction when the republicans won the elections in 2010, fact, the commission issued a report which obama ignored, opinuon, now he thinks he has all the answers. Fact, Obama will have added to the national debt more than all the previous presidents combined, that is a fact.
Fact: the country has not had a budget in over 800 says.
If a qualified republican runs on these and other facts the rookie will be one term.
My advice, government handouts are about to end, the liberal credit card is maxed out, so go out and get some marketable skills and figure out how you can be a success because in America anyone can do it, may take a while, it takes a plan. The danger is, if your successful you will most likely become a republican. except for lawyers.
Remember, in a free country you have a right to fail as well, so there is risk, but nothing is so sweet as success, this of course does not apply to lawyers