The White House’s Welfare Double-Speak

Justin Sykes
By Justin Sykes | April 30, 2014 | 3:36 PM EDT

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proclaimed that "the American people don't expect government to solve every problem" - a sentiment that most hardworking taxpayers no doubt share.

But, the budgetary reality of the last few years suggests that the President hasn't put his proverbial money where his mouth is, particularly in the area of welfare spending - which has expanded to stratospheric levels.

One of the most telling signs of the ever expanding welfare state under President Obama comes in the form of recent U.S. Census Bureau figures. According to the bureau, the current number of Americans working full-time in the private sector is 86,429,000. While at first blush, 86 million would seem to be a rather large number, it pales when compared to the number of Americans receiving government benefits.

In a recent article published by CNS News, Terence Jeffrey examines the American benefit-receiving population based on two categories: Americans who receive "benefits for public services they performed or in exchange for payroll taxes they dutifully paid their entire working lives" and Americans who receive "'means-tested' government benefits - or welfare."  Excluding those receiving veterans benefits, the U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate the number of "welfare recipients and non-welfare beneficiaries" came to 147,802,000.

This means that for every one full-time, private sector American worker, there are almost two Americans receiving benefits, either directly or indirectly. As Terence Jeffrey points out, eventually "there will be too few carrying too many" and Americans will find these numbers are simply unsustainable.

Unapologetic backers of the White House will carp that these numbers are not the fault of the President's policies, and merely a function of the sputtering economy the President inherited - but they would be mistaken. In fact over the past five years under Obama, the U.S. has spent $3.7 trillion on welfare - yes that's trillion with a "T." That $3.7 trillion was spent on 80 different means-tested poverty and welfare programs. Indeed, the number of food stamp recipients alone has grown from 33 million in 2009 to nearly 50 million now.

To illustrate the amount of spending the President has dedicated to welfare in the past five years, compare that $3.7 trillion to spending on other programs. Over the same period, just $797 billion was spent on education, transportation and NASA combined - that's billion with a "B."

Given that, during the President's tenure, he has spent almost five times the amount on welfare as on education, transportation and NASA combined, is it any wonder there is such a huge disparity between the number of Americans employed full-time and those receiving government benefits?

When government benefit programs are increasingly expanded every year, inevitably people become dependent on the government for support - threatening, as some have warned, to turn America's safety net into a hammock.

A prime case for scaling back government benefits comes from North Carolina. Last year, North Carolina became the only state to decline an extension of the federal government's extended-benefits program. "Since ending long-term unemployment benefits, the rate of job growth in North Carolina has seen a marked uptick and the unemployment rate has gone down at a much faster rate than the nation as a whole." Specifically, from July of 2013 when the state declined to extend extended-unemployment benefits, the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent to 6.4 percent as of February 2014. During this same time period the national unemployment rate dropped only 8 percent, less than half of the 20 percent drop experienced by North Carolina.

North Carolina's success in reducing its unemployment rate by declining to extend additional benefits should serve as a model for the President going forward.

Not every problem can be eradicated simply by continuing to throw more and more money at it - a fact the President himself paid lip service to in the not too distant past. It's time for him to put his money where his mouth is.

Editor's Note: Justin Sykes is a Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity