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Posted by: Doug Henwood | July 21, 2011

What? Me benefit?

I just learned, via Kate Harding on Twitter (who got it from Boing Boing), that about half of beneficiaries of federal benefit programs don’t realize they’ve enjoyed benefits. See table 3, here. Exact numbers: 44% of Social Security beneficiaries say they “have not used a government social program.” Ditto 43% of those who’ve gotten unemployment benefits and Pell Grants, 40% of those on Medicare, and 25% of those on Food Stamps.

The numbers are even bigger for what the author of the paper, Suzanne Mettler, calls the “submerged state”—benefits delivered via the tax code. So 60% of beneficiaries of the mortgage interest tax deduction think they’ve never benefitted from a social program, even though that’s what it is. Of course, since 60% of the benefits of that deduction go to $75,000+ households, they probably think of themselves as deserving.

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Responses

  1. Perhaps the influence of the prevailing anti-social democratic, pro-markets thought patters, reinforced by media, schools, fundamentalist religious cults, old line “constitutional conservatism,” self-help programs and everyday experiences. Some of it is basic ignorance of our economic realities, very mediocre history and social studies programs in many high schools, and middle class folk wisdom.

    Michael Harrington proposed that 25% of the mortgage interest tax deduction be diverted to fund anti-poverty programs. Imagine taking a poll today testing American’s opinion on Harrington’s proposal. What would the numbers look like?

  2. The comments to the Boring Boring snippet are even funnier than the table. Your final sentence seems to have been borne out by them.

  3. While old age insurance is a social spending program, and a remarkably effective one, I think that from a certain perspective mortgage subsidies, while obviously leaning towards social programming, arguably have such a strong monetary aspect that in that regard they’re far more palatable “entitlements” the bourgie assholes are willing to extend. That money has a direct and immediate impact on “consumer” behavior, but on a behavior that results directly in increased bank holdings, i.e., increased cash circulation.

    Less seriously, those poll numbers reflect “Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin he built with his own hands” levels of ignorance and delusion. Can charter schools and “post-partisan” sentiments fix that?

    Now this is a case where the pejorative “sense of entitlement” really should be applied. If you’re so entitled that you can afford to ignore the actual entitlements you receive, you are clearly so sheltered from the depredations and vicissitudes of history that you don’t even know there is such a thing.

    It’s also why, though I oppose any sort of entitlement slashing, I have to take schadenfreude in the thought of all those people from my parents’ generation getting a very rude awakening very soon. And don’t be surprised when I don’t show up for Christmas with your grandchildren because they’re too busy growing up in the prequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, and don’t complain when I buy you the wrong brand of cat food for dinner. Way to build a bridge from the 21s century into the 19th.

  4. Ah, what about people in school? community college students? State college students? They also think that they are not receiving any social benefits, though even with the surprising tuition raises, the state/federal govt is still providing a service to which any student (the cc system) or most students (the state system) are entitled.

  5. Unfortunately this speaks strongly against these programms or at least the way they are implemented.

  6. Please update your Verso blog link.

    Now its here: http://www.versobooks.com/blogs

  7. My favorite get-a-clue protest sign ever was some angry old tea-party codger holding a placard that read, “Keep Your Dirty Government Mitts off My Medicare!”


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