Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Liz Roberts, Development and Membership Coordinator at the War Resisters League.

Hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to pour into senseless and brutal wars–killing scores of people, destroying whole countries, and making even more enemies. 

But we hear daily claims that there is no money to create a substantial U.S. jobs program, despite double-digit unemployment. We are told we cannot afford comprehensive health-care reform. We are told insufficient funds are available to build a truly green economy, which could slow climate change. We’re told we cannot afford the desperately needed overhaul of our roads and bridges. And state economies are in shambles, so funding for education, housing and other human services, is quickly drying up.  

And starkly juxtaposing these claims is a singularly horrifying fact: more than 50% of every income tax dollar is allocated to the Pentagon. Furthermore, the U.S. Government is dishonest with the American people and grossly distorts this fact. It hides military debt in other areas of the budget, thereby giving the allusion that only 24 percent of income tax money goes into the military machine and U.S. wars. Each year, the War Resisters League analyzes the proposed budget–released by the government in January–and more accurately depicts the military portion, which we publish in our accessibly written flyer, Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes. 

Of the $1.4 trillion of “discretionary” spending (that which is not already committed for entitlement spending on things like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security) that Congress is considering for 2011, $708.3 billion (or more than half) is slated for military purposes, including the Pentagon’s base budget, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the nuclear weapons-related activities in the Department of Energy.

The Obama administration’s federal budget proposal, to be voted on in October, includes implementing freezes on spending levels for about 120 different (mostly) domestic programs. The Office of Management and Budget estimate that in more than three years, these spending freezes will generate $250 billion in savings. 

But military spending is up. The total of $708.3 billion includes $159 billion in projected war spending for 2011. For 2010, the base Pentagon budget was $531 billion, with another $129.6 billion in budgeted war spending. In addition, Congress will have to approve at least $33 billion more for 2010 to pay for President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan.

How much longer will tax-payers continue funding the military-industrial complex at the expense of true security? People are legitimately worried about jobs. But the increase in military spending since 2000 could cost the economy close to two million jobs in the long run.

Imagine what would be possible in the U.S.—substantially increasing employment, rebuilding and strengthening our infrastructure and schools, funding healthcare and affordable housing, developing renewable energy — if we could at long last unshackle ourselves from a crippling war economy. Imagine the ways our communities and cities could thrive if we finally move towards a peace economy?

Take Action: Tell Congress to Reduce Military Spending.

How Our Figures Were Determined:

“Current military” includes Dept. of Defense ($721 billion) and the military portion from other departments as noted in current military box above ($155 billion). “Past military” represents veterans’ benefits plus 80 percent of the interest on the debt.* For further explanation, please go to warresisters.org.

These figures are from an analysis of detailed tables in the Analytical Perspectives book of the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2011. The figures are federal funds, which do not include trust funds — such as Social Security — that are raised and spent separately from income taxes. What people pay by April 15, 2010, goes to the federal funds portion of the budget. The government practice of combining Trust and Federal funds began during the Vietnam War, thus making the human needs portion of the budget seem larger and the military portion smaller.

*Analysts differ on how much of the debt stems from the military; other groups estimate 50 to 60 percent. We use 80 percent because we believe if there had been no military spending, most (if not all), of the national debt would have been eliminated.

photo credit: War Resisters League


Robert G.
Robert G.7 years ago


Diane H. F7 years ago

During the 1970s, when benefits were at their most "generous", welfare (AFDC and general assistance) used 6% of the federal budget. Americans said that the costs were "driving them to their knees." Major cuts began with the Reagan administration, and welfare was "reformed" downwards with the Clinton administration.

What fraction of the budget today goes into actual poverty relief in the US, and how does this compare with what the government provides for foreign poverty aid?

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba7 years ago

I hate taxes, it does not matter which country.

Caroline L.
Caroline L7 years ago

Same old g*d* story. This president hasn't made a whit of difference. Rebelling gets you arrested; refusing to pay taxes so that they can keep fighting wars we don't approve of will land your butt in prison. They got us by the proverbials. It has to start with the old fart warmongers we keep re-electing. Time for new faces. Vote the incumbants OUT and let's start over.

Yulan L.
Yulan Lawson7 years ago

Very sad.

Linda M.
Linda M7 years ago

everyone, please sign and share:


thanks so much

Yulan L.
Yulan Lawson7 years ago

Not surprised.

Steven Gray
Steven Gray7 years ago

Thank you for the info. I am all for spending the taxpayer dollars for a strong military, it's the spending on the wars that must stop. When will our government learn that we cannot police the rest of the world?

There are enough major problems in our own country that the war budget could be used to strengthen our economy. Why does our government continue to be involved in wars we cannot win? First it was Korea, then Vietnam, then the Gulf War and now the Middle East again. Bring our troops home, strengthen our own defence and spend the rest to fix our badly broken governmemt and home.

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

Judith is right about Bin Laden. Anyone who thinks we spend far too much on social programs needs to read this article. ( I saw this info. a couple of days ago in another publication.) Our militar budget is OBSCENE.

Judith S.
Judith S7 years ago

How much do you want to bet Osama Bin Laden is dead and has been for a long time? Whenever they want to scare and control us, he suddenly "reappears."