"Some conservative critics of federal social programs, including leading presidential candidates, are sounding an alarm that the United States is rapidly becoming an ‘entitlement society’ in which social programs are undermining the work ethic and creating a large class of Americans who prefer to depend on government benefits rather than work. A new CBPP analysis of budget and Census data, however, shows that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work. This figure has changed little in the past few years."
People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.
Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.
These figures contrast sharply with the distribution of the extensive deductions, credits, and other write-offs in the federal tax code, known as tax expenditures (former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has called them “tax entitlements”). The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimates that for tax year 2011, the top fifth of the population will receive 66 percent of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax-expenditure benefits (the top 1 percent alone will receive 23.9 percent of the benefits), the middle 60 percent of the population will receive a little over 31 percent of the benefits, and the bottom 20 percent of the population will receive only 2.8 percent of the benefits. (See Figure 3 and box.)