The Map of Federal Benefits

I stumbled on this fascinating map published yesterday on the New York Times website.  It’s a national map showing the distribution of all federal benefits to individuals–including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, and so on–by county, so that you can see which counties are most reliant on federal social spending.

What’s fascinating is that the highest levels of federal benefits are not where you might expect them to be.  They are not in cities.  In many cases, they are in “red” parts of the country.

The only way this map could be better is if it included farm subsidies.  I imagine they were excluded because they often go to corporate entities, and this is a map of benefits to individuals.  But because many prosperous commercial farmers in America benefit from this form of government support, it might be included to round out this picture of geographical reliance on federal aid.

Food for thought.

7 responses

    • It’s interesting how much individual perceptions are off when it comes to who benefits from social welfare spending. The related NYT article notes that in counties and states where individuals receive more than they give, voters are tending to support Tea Partiers and the reduction of entitlement spending. Is this the Kansas effect? Or is it because of the stigma attached in our society to reliance on government? Would attitudes be different if the federal budget were in the black?

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  1. Susan, I would also add on transportation spending and military bases as well. It would not look good for the “small-government” types! Do you think we over-settled the country? Too many pointless states such as Montana and North Dakota?

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    • On that note, I recommend the documentary on the military-industrial complex called “Why We Fight.” It documents Eisenhower’s concern about permanently higher levels of military spending and how this form of activity is now intrinsic to our politics and economy. When we think about the variety and extent of the government’s actions as an economic actor/redistributor, it seems the question regarding its spending is not “whether” but “who.” Who should be receiving the most benefits from fiscal policies and why? We obscure this issue in the way we categorize various types of federal spending–when a radically different conception might emerge when we considered them all together, on a par.

      The many different skirmishes that are erupting–over the debt, the bailout, tax reform, and entitlements–are all, at base, about the larger shape we want our economy to be, and about the goals that we want all our citizens working toward. It’s this larger systemic argument that we really need to have–but that we’ve been skirting by talking about just parts of the beast.

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