Entitlements

Biggest Handouts to 1 Percent Are Social Security and Medicare

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John Merline of Investors Business Daily has published a fascinating analysis of $10 billion the government annually gives to the dreaded 1 percent:

Using IRS data, IBD found that the top 1% of income earners claimed approximately $7 billion in Social Security benefits in 2009. That year, the program paid super-rich seniors — those with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $10 million — an average of $33,000 each.

Medicare, meanwhile, paid roughly $2.6 billion in health care subsidies for the richest 1% of enrollees, based on calculations using Medicare enrollment, overall Medicare spending and premium data. (Medicare does not track spending by enrollee income.) And if you consider that 5% of Medicare enrollees have more than $1 million in savings, the amount taxpayers spend to subsidize retiree health benefits skyrockets.

It gets worse from almost any conceivable perspective short of a French aristocrat before the Revolution:

The richest 1%, for example, claimed a total of about $400 million in jobless benefits in 2009. The reason for these billions in payments to the wealthy is that many federal transfer programs don't have income limits on benefits.

"This is not an accidental loophole in the law," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., noted. "To the contrary, this reverse Robin Hood-style of wealth distribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit." In November, Coburn issued a report focused on federal subsidies going to millionaires.

In addition to direct payments, the top 1% claimed about $31 million in tax credits for buying electric cars, $469 million in home energy credits, and $111 million in child care credits, according to IBD's analysis of IRS tax return data….

"Shifts in the distribution of government transfer payments (since 1979) contributed to the increase in after-tax income inequality," according to a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office. The rapid growth in Medicare, for example, "tended to shift more transfer income to middle- and upper-income households."

The CBO also found that while the poorest fifth of households got 54% of federal transfer payments in 1979, they received just 36% in 2007. Several political leaders and policy groups have proposed changes to reduce federal payments to the super rich.

As you begin pondering the coming generational war and think about ways to create a safety net that isn't just one entitlement program to folks who should be paying their own freight more fully, read the whole thing here.

And read this whole post from a month ago to get your Irish up on a chilly (in D.C. anyway) December Monday morn:

For centuries, wealth flowed from the old and relatively rich to the young and relatively poor. Nowadays, the direction has been reversed. Via FICA taxes, the young and relatively poor give money to the old and relatively wealthy (you not only make more money when you're older, you're sitting on all sorts of assets accrued over time). Every study of Medicare and other entitlements that are not particularly means-tested shows that we can't have both a safety net and an entitlement system that sucks in huge amounts of cash and then gives it to people regardless of need. I think it would be a better world and a fairer world—and a richer world—if the government took in enough money to help the poor and indigent (whatever their age) and let the rest of us keep more of our money and make more of our choices for our futures.