95% of Americans Who Say They Haven’t Used a Government Social Program Really Have
Many Americans don’t realize how much of a role the federal government plays in their lives.
Ninety-five percent of those who say they have not used a social program in fact have done so, according to a research paper by two Cornell University professors.
Using data from the 2008 Social and Governmental Issues and Participation Study, Suzanne Mettler and Julianna Koch found the majority of those who claimed to not have accessed a government program did so—and not just one program, either. On average, the don’t-use-them respondents actually used 3.8 programs at one time or another.
Some of the programs are what are known as “submerged policies” that get little attention, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit; the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction; and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits. However even in the case of high-profile programs, many beneficiaries were unaware that they were using a government program. For example, 45% of Americans enrolled in Social Security replied that they did not benefit from a government program, as did 41% who qualified for Medicare.
Mettler and Koch said the negative discourse toward government over the past three decades may have influenced Americans to lose conscious sight of what Washington does on a day-to-day basis for people.
“Over the past thirty years, not only does American political discourse contain a more persistent anti-government message, but also, increasingly, many citizens benefit from expensive government social policies that obscure government‘s role in subsidizing and regulating them. As a result of both trends, many people fail to recognize government‘s role in providing for their economic security, health care, and educational opportunities,” the authors wrote.
They concluded, “The status of policies of the submerged state as government social programs simply eludes the notice of most beneficiaries. Ironically, most of the policies that are most clearly evident to people as government social programs are some of the least expensive ones that exist. The overall portrait that emerges of the American state is that it is fairly pervasive, large, and expensive, and yet simultaneously often unseen and unappreciated.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Who Says They Have Ever Used A Government Social Program? The Role of Policy Visibility (by John Wihbey, Journalist’s Resource)
Who Says They Have Ever Used A Government Social Program? (by Suzanne Mettler and Julianna Koch, Cornell University) (pdf) (see page 34)
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