The government “safety net” is not just for the poor anymore, said Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff in The New York Times. One out of five Americans—67 million people—now relies on federal aid to obtain food, housing, education, or health care, or to cover lost wages due to unemployment, according to a new study by the Heritage Foundation. We can’t afford this, said Conn Carroll in WashingtonExaminer.com. The original purpose of government assistance was to “help the very poor get back on their feet,” not to maintain the middle class in a comfortable lifestyle paid for by working taxpayers. Government assistance programs now cost $2.5 trillion a year—about 70 percent of the federal budget. If the U.S. wants to avoid a “Greek-like debtpocalypse,” we’ve got to reverse the growing culture of dependency.
Some parts of America are more dependent than others, said George Packer in NewYorker.com. “A map showing areas of greatest reliance on public benefits corresponds with weird exactness to the map of red America.” The South, Appalachia, and rural areas receive the most government help—but these are the same regions that gave birth to the Tea Party movement and are the most rabid hotbeds of anti-tax, anti-government rage. There’s a lot of self-delusion out there, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. One recent survey found that 44 percent of people on Social Security, and 43 percent of those on unemployment, insist that they have never “used a government program.” If Americans realized the large and vital role government plays in the lives of seniors, the disabled, and working families, the notion that this is a “fundamentally conservative country” would evaporate.
I wouldn’t be so sure, said Will Wilkinson in Economist.com. Yes, half the households in the country now receive government assistance of one kind or another. But our culture still prizes independence and self-reliance above all, so “many Americans find this dependency humiliating.” We need to redesign the safety net “to go with, rather than against, our culture’s grain,” turning Social Security and Medicare into “forced savings” programs where each of us contributes to our own welfare. The more government gives us, said William Beach in the New York Post, the less we in turn give to our families, neighbors, and churches in times of need. As government becomes the solution to all problems, it “weakens civil society and the human bonds among us.”