More than half of all Americans—53 percent—now depend on government for their income. In 1950 the figure was just 28 percent. While that number shot upward, the proportion of workers in the private sector fell. The economist Gary Shilling totaled up federal, state, and local government workers, plus private-sector workers who owe their jobs to government, plus recipients of Social Security, other transfer payments, and benefits such as food stamps. He also tacked on the dependents of these direct beneficiaries. After adjusting his figures to avoid double counting, Shilling found that for each person earning his pay in the private sector and paying taxes, there is at least one more person relying on a check from the government.
Historically, government dependence reached its height in 1980, hitting 55 percent at the beginning of the Reagan presidency. Shilling sees the country returning to those days and then going further: He predicts the number of government beneficiaries will grow to 60 percent of the U.S. population by 2040.