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DiabloViejo
02-19-2012, 10:08 PM
Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It
By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and ROBERT GEBELOFF
Published: February 11, 2012
NY Times

LINDSTROM, Minn. — Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

There is little poverty here in Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis, where cheap housing for commuters is gradually replacing farmland. But Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.

Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation. In Chisago, and across the nation, the government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.

Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.

And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.

The expansion of government benefits has become an issue in the presidential campaign. Rick Santorum, who won 57 percent of the vote in Chisago County in the Republican presidential caucuses last week, has warned of “the narcotic of government dependency.” Newt Gingrich has compared the safety net to a spider web. Mitt Romney has said the nation must choose between an “entitlement society” and an “opportunity society.” All the candidates, including Ron Paul, have promised to cut spending and further reduce taxes.

The problem by now is familiar to most. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.

The recent recession increased dependence on government, and stronger economic growth would reduce demand for programs like unemployment benefits. But the long-term trend is clear. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.

Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes. Fifty-six percent supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Forty-four percent favored both.

Support for spending cuts runs strong in Chisago, where anger at the government helped fuel Mr. Cravaack’s upset victory in 2010 over James L. Oberstar, the Democrat who had represented northeast Minnesota for 36 years.

“Spending like this is simply unsustainable, and it’s time to cut up Washington, D.C.’s credit card,” Mr. Cravaack said in a February speech to the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. “It may hurt now, but it will be absolutely deadly for the next generation — that’s our children and our grandchildren.”

But the reality of life here is that Mr. Gulbranson and many of his neighbors continue to take as much help from the government as they can get. When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears. It is much easier to promise future restraint than to deny present needs.

“How do you tell someone that you deserve to have heart surgery and you can’t?” Mr. Gulbranson said.

He paused.

“You have to help and have compassion as a people, because otherwise you have no society, but financially you can’t destroy yourself. And that is what we’re doing.”

He paused again, unable to resolve the dilemma.

“I feel bad for my children.”

Middle-Class Blues

Mr. Gulbranson has tried several ways to make a living in the storefront he bought from his father in 1979. He ran a gift shop, then shifted to selling jewelry. Nine years ago, he moved the gold scales to the back and bought equipment for screen-printing clothing. Through it all, he has never made more than about $46,000 in a year.

Meanwhile, the cost of life — and of raising five children — has climbed inexorably.

“I used to go out and try to have a meal at Perkins, which is a restaurant here, and get out of the store with $5,” Mr. Gulbranson said. “And now it’s probably up to $10.”

In recent years he has earned so little that he did not pay federal income taxes, although he still paid thousands of dollars toward Medicare and Social Security. The earned-income tax credit is intended to offset those payroll taxes, to encourage people with lower-paying jobs to remain in the work force.

Mr. Gulbranson said the money covered the fees for his children’s sports leagues and the cost of keeping the older ones on the family’s car insurance.

“If we didn’t get these government things, then probably my kids could not participate in some of the sports they do,” he said.

Almost half of all Americans lived in households that received government benefits in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The share climbed from 37.7 percent in 1998 to 44.5 percent in 2006, before the recession, to 48.5 percent in 2010.

The trend reflects the expansion of the safety net. When the earned-income credit was introduced in 1975, eligibility was limited to households making the current equivalent of up to $26,997. In 2010, it was available to families making up to $49,317. The maximum payout, meanwhile, quadrupled on an inflation-adjusted basis.

It also reflects the deterioration of the middle class. Chisago boomed and prospered for decades as working families packed new subdivisions along Interstate 35, which runs up the western edge of the county like a flagpole with its base set firmly in Minneapolis. But recent years have been leaner. Per capita income in Chisago excluding government aid fell 6 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis between 2000 and 2007. Over the next two years, it fell an additional 7 percent. Nationally, per capita income excluding government benefits fell by 3 percent over the same 10 years.

Mr. Gulbranson’s business struggled as other companies, particularly construction firms, stopped ordering logo-emblazoned shirts. In 2009, the family claimed the earned-income credit for the first time on the advice of their accountant, who was claiming it for herself. The share of local families claiming the credit climbed 33 percent between 2000 and 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.

Read the rest here:
NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/even-critics-of-safety-net-increasingly-depend-on-it.html?pagewanted=1)

cushioncrawler
02-19-2012, 11:54 PM
This reminds me that it iz a valid criticizm that big gov loves to take lots so that it kan giv.
In effekt it makes lots of peepel dependant on big gov.
And the main loss iz the cost of collecting the taxes, and the cost of distributing.
mac.