Who's Using Government Benefits: Mostly, The Elderly

The recession and drawn out recovery has prompted a lot of discussion about whether entitlement programs ranging from unemployment insurance to food stamps help people in need or keep people from helping themselves.

A recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income families, offers some insight into that issue by showing who exactly is using these government benefits.

The answer: Mostly the 65-plus crowd, but also disabled people and working Americans.

Using the 2010 federal budget and U.S. Census data , the CBPP finds that 53 percent of all government entitlements are going to people who are over 65 years old.

Another 20 percent of the benefits went to disabled people, while 18 percent were going to people in a working household. The data was for the government’s 2010 fiscal year.

That means that 9 percent of entitlements went to people who were not elderly, disabled or living in a household in which someone had worked at least 1,000 hours in a year.

The analysis included Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps), Social Security Insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the school lunch program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the refundable component of the Child Tax Credit.

Taken together, that accounts for $1.8 trillion of the approximately $2.1 trillion in benefit costs the government paid out in the 2010 fiscal year, according to the researchers. The report said most of the remaining money went to federal and veteran retirement benefits, which it excluded from its calculation.

In addition, the report included about $130 billion in state funding for benefits such as Medicaid.

The main analysis did not include programs for which Congress must set funding levels each year, including low-income housing and energy assistance programs and WIC, which provides nutrition to low-income moms and young children. However, the authors said when they did the analysis with those benefits it didn't change the calculations substantially.

Of course, it makes sense that older Americans are getting a large chunk of benefits because that’s who Medicare and Social Security are aimed at.

Most of the 9 percent of payouts going to people who were not working, elderly or disabled were unemployment benefits, medical care payments, Social Security survivor benefits and payouts for people who opted to take Social Security between ages 62 to 64.

The report noted that there are likely others who would like to be getting government benefits but aren’t because there’s a limit to how much is given out for certain benefit programs.