The United States has reached a milestone. And not a particularly good one. According to US census data, a majority of American children under 18 are now in households that receive means-tested government assistance.
CNS News reported that 52.1 percent of Americans under the age of 18 live in households where at least one person receives government assistance. This does not necessarily mean that each young person personally receives government assistance. It could be an older or disabled person, but many of the programs are geared toward families with young children.
The means-tested programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the National School Lunch Program.
The share of people receiving government benefits decreased as age increased with Americans aged 75 and older being the least likely to receive assistance. Only 18.8 percent of senior Americans received benefits. Even when school lunches were excluded, the under-18 category still led with 44.8 percent receiving assistance.
Historic data shows that the share of children receiving benefits has climbed sharply over the past 20 years. In 1998, only 36.9 percent received means-tested assistance. By 2008, the number has risen to 40 percent. It continued to climb throughout the Great Recession and first reached 50 percent in 2013.
A driving factor may be the increase in unmarried births. Out-of-wedlock births have risen alongside the increased government assistance. For women under 30, more than half of all births now occur outside of marriage. To some extent, government assistance has replaced a spouse’s income in these single-parent families.
The trend of growing entitlement spending will be difficult to reverse, but is vital for the future of the United States. Entitlements are already in excess of 15 percent of GDP and represent about 60 percent of the annual federal budget. Entitlements drive the federal budget deficit and, as entitlement spending grows, it will crowd out other programs such as defense and infrastructure spending.
Equally important is that having a large share of young Americans on the government dole teaches a bad lesson. Rather than teaching the next generation to be self-reliant and prepare their own futures, broad government assistance involves a moral hazard, the risk of teaching children not to build their own wealth or think carefully about life choices because the government will bail you out. That’s not the message that we should be sending to the next generation.
Originally published on The Resurgent