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The High Cost of Good Intentions


Entitlement Programs - The federal government officially defines an entitlement as a "statutory mandate or requirement of the United States to incur a financial obligation unless that obligation is explicitly conditioned on the appropriation in subsequent legislation of sufficient funds for that purpose."

In other words, entitlement programs are those that guarantee benefits to any individual as long as they meet the eligibility criteria, regardless of need.

Typical entitlement programs include Social Security retirement and disability insurance, veterans’ pensions and health care, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the earned income tax credit, and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance subsidies.

Social Security - Social Security is primarily a retirement and old age insurance program. Most workers contribute OASDI payroll taxes while they work and collect Social Security benefits when they retire. The current full retirement age is 66 and is slowly being raised to 67. Today, about 167 million people work and pay Social Security taxes and about 59 million people receive monthly Social Security benefits. Social Security also provides disability insurance for disabled American under its DI program. 

Social Security is primarily financed through a dedicated payroll tax. Employers and employees each pay 6.2 percent of wages up the taxable maximum, while the self-employed pay the combined 12.4 percent.

To see the financial operations of the trust funds, click here.

To learn more about Social Security, click here.

Medicare - Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older. Workers contribute Medicare payroll taxes throughout their working lives and receive Medicare once they reach the retirement age. Medicare covers hospital insurance (Part A), supplementary medical insurance (Part B), and prescription drug coverage (Part D).

Medicaid - Medicaid is a state-run and partially federally-funded program that provides health insurance to low-income Americans.

Food Stamps - Food Stamps provide low-income people with money to purchase food. The modern program was established as part of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, but it has undergone changes since then. In 2008, the Food Stamp Program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

EITC - The Earned Income Tax Credit, EITC or EIC, is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income. To qualify, you must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if you do not owe any tax or are not required to file. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may give you a refund. For more information, click here.

Equally Worthy Claim - The "equally worthy claim" is a driving force behind the expansion of entitlement programs. When a new entitlement is formed to help a targeted and limited group of people who are deemed worthy of assistance, individuals who are just outside of eligibility line claim that they are "equally worthy" to those who receive benefits as well. When fiscal times are good, legislators expand the eligibility line. Once benefits are expanded, a new group closer to being equally worthy comes forth, and the process repeats all over again.

Due to this, entitlements no longer resemble their original purposes as eligibility is granted to many groups. The Revolutionary War is an excellent example of equally worthy claim losing its original mission. The Revolutionary War pension program was created to confine benefits to only those who were injured in the war. Eventually, the program expanded to all individuals who served in the Revolutionary War, regardless of whether they were disabled or not.