I usually scan the headlines of a few papers / news agencies from the States in order to keep up-to-date. I look at CNN, The New York Times, People magazine, USA Today, and if I am looking for a good scare I click on Fox News, but I am gone faster than you can say "right wing bias in the media." Today I stopped by USA Today and was alarmed by the headline Federal Aid Programs Expand at Record Rate. Well . . . that can't be good.
As I read the article I was reminded of a few things I learned in my stats classes. First, a number is just a number. What gives a number meaning is the way you present it and/or compare it to other numbers. Take for example, this quote:
The biggest expansion: Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. It added
15 million beneficiaries over five years to become the nation's largest
Hmm, that sounds alarming. Damn those poor people for getting sick. Yes, Medicaid is the largest entitlement program when we consider the number of individuals enrolled.
Now look at this quote:
Not a factor: Social Security and Medicare. Those retirement programs will not
see their enrollment explode until 79 million baby boomers start to become
eligible for Social Security in 2008 and Medicare in 2011.
Hmm, from these two quotes, one would think that the U.S. government spends more on Medicaid. But take a closer look at a different set of numbers. When Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare are calculated as a percent of total federal expenditures, then Medicaid comprises only 8% of the national budget, Social Security is 21% and Medicare is 12%. When we look at it this way, Social Security and Medicare ARE a factor. In fact they are a BIG factor and as USA Today points out, it will just get worse in 2008 and 2011.
Let's take a look at another quote.
Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a conservative Republican from Minnesota, says the number of
people in entitlement programs should not be growing when unemployment is near a
record low. "It's probably time to revisit food stamps and its goals and costs,"
says Gutknecht, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees food stamps. Food
stamp enrollment climbed from 17.2 million in 2000 to 25.7 million in 2005.
Once again the enrollment figures are at play here. USA Today presented the children's nutrition figures in an accompanying table. But when we calculate children's nutrition as a percent of total federal expenditures, it comprised only .48% of the national budget. The US spends less than 1% of its money feeding children. That is interesting. I am not sure Rep. Gutknecht is looking at the correct programs to cut.
What is all comes down to, Americans are getting older and poorer. As budget deficits get higher, we will have "to tighten our belts" and make some cuts. It is time to set priorities. Personally, I am okay with feeding children and making sure that senior citizens and the poor have healthcare. It makes me angry to read an article that makes it look like the poor are to blame for out of control spending.
As USA Today points out, a lot of this is due to the welfare reforms of 1996 which "pushed people into the workforce." Which Rep. Gutknecht would say is a good thing. But let me ask you this, did these people get well paying jobs with healthcare? Not really. The most are making minimum wage at McDonald's. Although unemployment is near a record low, it is also a deceiving number. Many people are in low wage jobs, others have fallen off the unemployment rolls because they are no longer eligible for benefits. It does not mean that they are employed, it just means that they no longer count. Once again, it all in how you look at the numbers.
Before someone begins to accuse me of "fuzzy math" go to the census bureau website or any government agency website and look up the information yourself.