Policy Documents

The 2012 Index of Dependence on Government

William W. Beach and Patrick D. Tyrrell –
February 8, 2012

Today, more people than ever before—67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries—depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions. The United States reached another milestone in 2010: For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes. Related to these disturbing trends, publicly held debt continued its amazing ascent without any plan by the government to pay it back. As if those circumstances were not dire enough, the country is about to witness the largest generational retirement in world history by a population that will depend on currently bankrupted pension and health programs.

The 2012 Index of Dependence on Government highlights the gathering fiscal storm clouds. Unsustainable increases in dependent populations predate the recent recession—and continuing economic morass—and have continued to rise since the economy collapsed in 2008 and 2009. There is one silver lining to those clouds: A few policymakers and independent public policy groups have advanced plans for restoring fiscal balance in Washington. Among them is The Heritage Foundation. Heritage calls its fiscal plan Saving the American Dream. The Heritage plan reforms and funds those government programs that matter most to people who need the government’s help, and it frees the private sector to create the millions of jobs that will dramatically reduce the growth of dependence on government.