The data show – you’re screwed

My Republican friends, of which I have none, are really not going to like these results. The findings from my latest analysis are not entirely unexpected. Several years ago I attended a bilingual education conference where the keynote speaker was a middle-aged, white, male demographer from Texas. Yes, I was thinking exactly the same as you, the conference planners must have run out of money before they got to this line item. What could he possibly say about bilingual education from either a personal or professional perspective? He turned out to be fascinating, and although I don’t remember his name, I clearly remember him saying this:

“Even if I was the most bigoted middle-aged white male on the face of the earth, I would be advocating hard for the education of bilingual children because it would be in my self-interest.”

I actually do have exactly three rabid Republican friends, who are constantly sending me email about how the country is going to hell in a handbasket because of all of these government transfer payments. They are partly right about that.

Tax rates are extremely high. My husband and I are fortunate enough to have graduate degrees (courtesy of that government-funded institution, the University of California). In addition, I do quite a bit of consulting work. The result is we pay about 50% of our income in federal, state and corporate taxes. So much taxes that my Republican friends are right, it is a disincentive to work more, and, after several years, I just quit my third job teaching statistics and research methods in the graduate school of a couple of other universities. It just wasn’t worth it since I only got to keep half the money.

That, to me, is not a terrible outcome, though. It’s not as if the world’s most spoiled 11-year-old isn’t going to get that rock-climbing gym membership for her birthday because I am only working 55 hours a week instead of 65. The universities won’t quit offering statistics courses, these will just be taught by someone younger than me who needs the money more. That’s not a terrible outcome, either.

My Republican friends are also correct that a heck of  a lot of people are getting paid by the government in this country. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration, there are 52.5 million beneficiaries. With a population of approximately 304 million in this country that represents about 17% of the population on the dole.

Below is the percentage of people in the country receiving payments from the Social Security Administration, by state.  My ultra-liberal yuppie home state of California is relatively low, while those commie Republican states like North Dakota, Florida and Oklahoma are sucking up my tax dollars.


Let’s see what’s really happening here … In fact, the vast proportion of people receiving social security payments are not slackers feigning disability. The majority, 70%, are retired workers like my 77-year-old mother and 85-year-old father.  I don’t think they are going to get out of their beach chairs by the pool at their house in Florida and get a job any time soon.

Another 14% of those receiving social security payments are survivors of deceased workers. My husband died when my daughters were ages 8, 9 and 12.  They didn’t get out and get jobs either, the lazy slobs. Here is an interesting fact about social security survivors benefits – when the social security office told me how much I would receive each month I was very surprised by the amount and said,
“That’s per month?”

and the clerk responded,

“No, per child.”

I received MORE THAN SIX TIMES what a family on welfare (i.e., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) would have received. And I had a full-time job as  a professor on top of it.  I know what my late husband (who, I must admit, was a Republican) would have said,

“I paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into that system. My kids damn well ought to get it.”

Speaking of my late husband, he was 54 years old when he died. If we look at why people are really getting more social security payments in those darker states we need look no further than the average age. The graph below shows the percentage of people over 65 in each state. It is almost a mirror image of the graph above. The older people are, the more likely they are to retire. The older the average age in the state, the more people will die, leaving behind them survivors to collect benefits. Also, the older a worker, the more likely he or she is to have a disability. It is a simple risk function. Even if your risk was stable (which it isn’t, but let’s ignore that for a moment) , assuming that people who are disabled stay disabled for some time, at each passing year, the number of disabled workers of that age accumulates.


The American population is aging. Even without that health care that you are so intent on denying people who are not on social security, the number of people receiving government benefits is going up and up. Who is going to pay it? Well, as that demographer from Texas said long ago, social security payments don’t actually come from the money my mom put in back in 1975. Nope, they come from the money being paid in by workers right now. The dependency ratio, the number of beneficiaries per worker, is  going up and up.

So, where are we going to get those new, young workers? Funny thing, there. The median age of the Latino population in this country is 27.6, almost ten years younger than the median for the U.S. population as a whole. Here is another fascinating graph for you, a bit out of date but it hasn’t changed that much in the last 20 years.

figure2See those light states that have very few Latinos? They are the exact same ones as the darker states above  that have the most social security recipients. Young people don’t collect much in social security.

What about TANF ? In fact, in 2009 there were slightly over 4 million people receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, less than 8% of the social security case load.

So, here’s the bottom line folks, if you want to cut the percentage of people receiving government payments your choices are:

  1. Die younger.
  2. Retire older.
  3. Cut benefits to people on social security, who are overwhelmingly elderly and survivors of deceased workers.
  4. Get more younger people in the work force paying into the social security system.

That is another interesting statistic. I have four children; three are now in the workforce paying taxes and one is in sixth grade. My three Republican friends, all married, have a total of four children among them.

You can send me all the hate mail you want, you can scream and yell and ditto Rush Limbaugh forever. The data are pretty clear, folks. Your continued social security is dependent on my children and others like them being willing to tax themselves so you can have free Medicare and live in the style to which you want to be accustomed. All I can say to that is, I hope you have a LOT of money socked away in your 401k.


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One Comment

  1. The US has a budget problem for two reasons:
    1) We spend a trillion dollars a year more than we should on medical care. It goes to pay off insurance companies, pharma, and doctors.
    2) We feel it necessary to spend as much as the rest of the world combined on defense.

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