A USA TODAY analysis of 25 major government programs found that enrollment increased an average of 17% in the programs from 2000 to 2005. The nation's population grew 5% during that time.
Spending on these social programs was $1.3 trillion in 2005, up an inflation-adjusted 22% since 2000 and accounting for more than half of federal spending. Enrollment growth was responsible for three-fourths of the spending increase, according to USA TODAY's analysis of federal enrollment and spending data. Higher benefits accounted for the rest.
Robert Greenstein, head of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, says the growth in the number of people in many programs is due to a rise in the poverty rate from 11.3% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2004, the most recent year available. "It's certainly better that people falling into poverty can get Medicaid, but I'd prefer fewer poor people and employers not dropping medical coverage," he says.
Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a conservative Republican from Minnesota, says the number of people in entitlement programs should not be growing when unemployment is near a record low. "It's probably time to revisit food stamps and its goals and costs," says Gutknecht, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees food stamps. Food stamp enrollment climbed from 17.2 million in 2000 to 25.7 million in 2005.
The unemployment number is always dubious because it only measures new claims. It doesn't account for the number of people who are unable to find work or who are underemployed. At any rate, the Republican penchant for slashing spending on social programs doesn't seem to be happening as poverty increases.
Another question not answered by the article: How much of the increase can be accounted for by families of National Guard and Reserve members on public assistance?