96 Percent of People Have Received Some Government Assistance

Hands up(Image: Hands up via Shutterstock)Mitt Romney got himself in trouble when he wrote off 47 percent of Americans who “are dependent upon government.” But he also got his math wrong.

It turns out that 96 percent of Americans have used government assistance at one point or another in their lives, ranging from Social Security to grant programs. In a New York Times op-ed Monday, Professors Suzanne Mettler and John Sides point out that a vast majority of Americans have some tie to the government and that, in 2008, 96 percent of people used government help. The data comes from a 2008 Cornell study of 21 social programs:

The survey asked about people’s policy usage throughout their lives, not just at a moment in time, and it included questions about social policies embedded in the tax code, which are usually overlooked.

What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.

On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives. An individual typically had received two direct social benefits in the form of checks, goods or services paid for by government, like Social Security or unemployment insurance.

As Sides and Mettler are quick to point out, the survey does not include “government activity that benefits everyone — national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations — but only tangible benefits.”

This means that Romney was not just insulting those who are too poor to pay a federal income tax. If Romney believes that dependence on government leads people to “believe that they are victims” who would never take “personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he has written off 96 percent of the country.