Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Government benefits OR definitions and the census strike again

Last week I got a little fascinated by the census bureau data.....and this weekend I was sent an article from the Wall Street Journal regarding yet another set of Census Bureau Data that was getting passed around.

This one addressed the number of households in the US receiving "government benefits"....apparently it's up to 49.1%.

Now that's a scary number, but I am always wary of the phrase "government benefits" when it's used in a statistical context.  The problem is that it's an incredibly vague term, and can be used to cover a myriad of programs....not all of which are what initially spring to mind.  

I first learned to be wary of this term when my dear liberal brother mentioned that some group he had been following had claimed that there was some ludicrous number of government handout programs in place today.  The number struck him as high, so he got on their website and found out that they were actually counting both federal assistance programs AND tax breaks (such as home interest deductions, student loan interest deductions, dependent credits, etc) as "entitlements".  Thus in this case I am extra vigilant about my "find the definition" rule.

I took a look around the census website (we've become good friends lately) and found the list they were using as of 2008*:
  • Dept of Veteran's Affairs - Compensation, Pension, Education Assistance
  • Medicare
  • Social Security
  • Unemployment
  • Workman's Comp
  • Food Stamps
  • Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch and Breakfast Program
  • Housing Assistance
  • Federal and State Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Not a terribly surprising list, though I wouldn't have realized that Veteran's benefits were on there.  Even without the economy going down hill or any other expansion of programs, the Veteran's benefits most certainly would have expanded in the past few years as people continue

Additionally, it would be important to note that only one member of the household needed to receive this in order to be counted.  That struck me because my parents and my grandmother all live in the same house, which means both of my dear hard working parents are lumped in to that 49.1% number.

Whatever your feeling about government benefits, it's important to know exactly which ones are being counted in any list.  I'd imagine that many people who might dislike Medicaid might not care to eliminate Veteran's Benefits, and those who don't like TANF may very well support workman's comp.  Just something to be aware of, especially in an election year.

*To note: the latest data I could find was from 2008.  I really hate that the WSJ doesn't link to where the heck it got it's numbers.  I couldn't find the stuff they put up anywhere on the census bureau website.  I'm not doubting them, I just wonder if it would have killed them to include a link????

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