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How Are US Tax Dollars Being Spent? Hint: The Pentagon Is Cashing In.

The average US taxpayer sent $58 to fund antiwar diplomacy efforts versus $5,109 for militarism and its support systems.

F35 fighter aircraft is displayed during a visit to the Lockheed Martin aerospace and defense company in Fort Worth, Texas, on December 10, 2023.

Every year at tax time, the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies releases a tax receipt to show where your federal income tax dollars go.

Every year, militarism in all its forms is one of the biggest expenses on the receipt. From war and weapons, to deportations and detentions, to prisons and policing, budgeting choices made in Congress mean that every U.S. taxpayer will contribute to these systems of violence and oppression. By comparison, almost every constructive government program — from public health and environmental protection to education and disaster management — is woefully underfunded.

For 2023, the average taxpayer will have contributed $5,109 to militarism and its support systems, including war and the military, homeland security, federal law enforcement and veterans’ programs. The biggest portion of that tax bill is for the Pentagon itself at $2,974. More than half of that, $1,748, goes to corporate contractors that benefit from U.S. militarism. That’s more than the average monthly rent in the United States.

The average taxpayer gives more to the single largest Pentagon contractor, Lockheed Martin ($249), than to the child tax credit ($110). That’s the program that was responsible for cutting child poverty nearly in half when it was briefly expanded during the pandemic. Further expansion of the child tax credit would have a far greater impact than throwing more money at Lockheed Martin, and yet the weapons maker continues to profit from inflated Pentagon spending, with $9 billion in dividends to shareholders and stock buybacks in 2023.

Likewise, the average taxpayer gives more for Pentagon contracts with Boeing ($87) than for the Federal Aviation Administration ($23), the agency responsible for commercial airline safety. That’s too bad, since Boeing has had a string of safety failures on its commercial flights in the last few years, from planes crashing to coming apart midair. Aviation experts and whistleblowers have exposed ways that Boeing repeatedly chose profit over safety.

Then there’s SpaceX, one of the many vanity projects of Elon Musk. SpaceX is a relatively new and minor player in the Pentagon contract game, so the average taxpayer paid just $12 for SpaceX contracts from NASA and the Pentagon combined. That’s still more than the tax bill for renewable energy and energy efficiency. At less than $11, the average tax bill for renewable energy is a testament to the deep failures of public policy to address the root causes of climate change.

The list goes on. Beyond Pentagon contractors, taxpayers are footing the bill (at $110 each) for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agencies responsible for deportations and detentions that criminalize immigration and torment immigrant communities. Compare that to just $29 for refugee assistance, and it’s clear that the punitive immigration system in the U.S. is a policy choice born directly from the budget.

Other choices that fund militarism and control instead of humane solutions are just as striking. The average taxpayer contributed more for federal prisons ($32.29) than for mental health and substance use programs ($31.69). Given that the vast majority of incarcerated people are not in federal prisons but in state and local prisons and jails, the disparity is actually much wider than that. Still, the comparison shows that decision makers see nothing wrong with imprisoning people with mental illness and substance use disorders, rather than providing treatment.

And of course, there is the cost of war. Since the beginning of the century, the U.S. has almost always either been at war, or has been providing major support to someone else’s war. The average taxpayer will have contributed $112 to foreign militaries in 2023. Compare this to the $58 the average taxpayer funds for diplomacy efforts to end and prevent wars.

The most devastating current example is the U.S. support for Israel’s military assault on Gaza, through military aid to Israel that totals $3.8 billion this year and may climb much higher if Congress passes legislation currently under negotiation.

Last year, without any additional military aid to Israel, the average taxpayer will have contributed more than $14 to Israel’s military. That’s not making anyone safer. It’s also the same amount that taxpayers contributed to wildfire management, despite the fact that wildfires killed 183 Americans in 2023.

These priorities are all wrong. The consequences are absolute devastation in Gaza, unnecessary suffering and trauma at the U.S. border and in immigrant communities, and a quality of life for ordinary U.S. residents that isn’t what it should be — whether that means fewer funds available to cut child poverty, less resources for mental health or a federal deprioritization of the climate crisis and its direct impacts.

The solution is a budget that changes these priorities to divest from militarism and invest in human needs here and around the world — something that’s only possible if taxpayers take a more active role. Amid ongoing resistance to U.S. support for Israel’s assault on Gaza, some people are exploring tax resistance, or withholding taxes that support Israel’s war. Others continue to participate in congressional call-ins and mass protest to clearly and consistently tell President Biden and Congress where they want their tax dollars to go — and where they don’t.