NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2010

How much have federal social programs grown?  How much have such programs "'crowded out"' what were once social obligations and services carried out by community groups, family networks, and even local governments?  In other words, has the civil society yielded significant ground to the federal public sector, asks William W. Beach, Director of the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation. 

"'The Index of Dependence on Government,"' published by the Heritage Foundation, is an attempt to measure these patterns and provide data to help ponder the implications of these trends.  The 2009 Index shows that: 

  • The Index now stands at 240, based on data through the calendar year ending in 2008; that is up three points from its value of 237 in 2007.
  • The Index has grown by 31.2 percent since 2001, when it stood at 183; in other words, nearly a third of its increase since 1980 (the base year of the Index when it stood at 100) has occurred in just the last eight years.
  • This rapid growth of the Index has been accompanied by a rapid increase in the percentage of tax filers who pay no taxes; that percentage jumped from 21.3 percent in 1980 to 34 percent in 2008. In 1980, 20 million tax filers paid no taxes; in 2008, 48 million paid nothing.  

Americans should be concerned about this seemingly relentless upward march in Index scores, says Beach.  Dependence on the federal government for life's many challenges strips civil society of its historical and necessary role in providing aid and renewal through the intimate relationships of family, community, and local institutions and governments.  While the Index does not measure the decay of civil society, it reflects its declining role in this most important aspect of life. 

Americans' concern over the growth of the Index should be particularly high for another reason, says Beach: Americans find themselves on the eve of the largest retirement of people in world history -- at the same time that the number of "'taxpayers"' who pay no taxes is growing steadily.  

Source: William W. Beach, "'The 2009 Index of Dependence on Government,"' Heritage Foundation, Report No. 10-01, March 4, 2010. 

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