To The Daily Sun,
I have talked to many people of both political parties and am usually surprised at how little the average person knows about where the federal government gets the money it spends and on what it is spends it on. I will start by providing my source so everyone can verify this. (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/what-are-sources-revenue-federal-government)
The biggest source of revenues is the personal income tax which accounts for 47.3 percent ($1.57T). Yes that is trillions. Next is “social insurance,” which accounts for 34.1 percent ($1.11T). That is what everyone pays if you work for a taxpaying employer. You see it on your pay stub as “Social Security Tax” and “Medicare tax.” Next are corporate taxes which accounts for 9.2 percent ($.30T) and the balance is excise and other taxes which accounts for 9.4 perent. ($.31T) — for a total of $3.29T. I’ll get back to the “docial Insurance” tax later but want to address the $1.57T in personal income tax first and who pays that. For that information I went to the PEW report at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/13/high-income-americans-pay-most-income-taxes-but-enough-to-be-fair/ . It’s not in the format I would like but the bottom line is that the top 2.7 percent of wage earners pay 51.6 percent ($.81T). The top 26 percent of wage earners (which includes the top 2.7 percent) pay 79.4 percent ($1.25T) and the rest of us (i.e. 74 percent) pay the remaining 20.6 percent ($.32T). Is that fair? Well actually I think yes. The point I want to make is that 2.7 percent of the population pays more than half of all of the income tax the federal government collects. That is a good thing and I have always had a hard time with polticians claiming the rich don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes. I’m not in that top wage earner group but would like to say thanks to all of them. Many are business owners and corporate executives that keep the rest of us employed. I personally wish there were more highly paid individuals because they pay far more than the rest of us combined in income taxes.
Getting back to the purpose of this letter, I want to cover how the government spends our (and I literally mean our) money. To get that info I go to http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/04/what-does-the-federal-government-spend-your-tax-dollars-on-social-insurance-programs-mostly/ I’ll start by pointing out that the government spent $3.95T in 2016. That is $.66T more than it collected in taxes. That is the reason I have written several opinion articles to highlight that disturbing trend. Looking at where the money goes, I’ll start with the 6 percent ($.24T) the government pays in interest. That is because we have a national debt of $20T today and it’s growing. That is $240B dollars that could go towards better things like health care and infastructure. Getting back on topic, the biggest cost is for the “social insurance” (i.e. Social Security and Medicare) as I pointed out above. That accounts for 39 percent ($1.54T). Compare that to the $1.11T collected for a net shortfall of $.43T. I’ll refer to this later. The next biggest bucket is what is referred to as social programs, which accounts for 29 percent ($1.15T), which includes programs such as Medicaid, VA benefits, health benefits, unemployment benefits, welfare, EBT cards, etc. The next biggest is national defense at 15 percent ($.59T). The next is education at 3 percent ($.12T). The balance of 6 percent ($.24T) is for other miscellaneous programs like crop subsidies, space travel, highway repairs, national parks, foreign aid and much more.
Whenever I bring up with people that Social Security and Medicare are one of the main drivers on why the government can’t balance the budget it’s immediately denied. So if they are retired or close to it I ask them to go to https://www.ssa.gov/ and if they have a SSN they can look up every dollar they ever paid into Social Security as well as every dollar their employer paid into it on their behalf. From the same page you will also see how much Social Security will pay you monthly as long as you live after you retire. Simple right! Now take the total of what you and your employer paid into Social Security and divide it by what you will receive and that will tell you how many months it will take before you will have received back every dollar you paid into the system. To be fair, inflation does come into play here and if you dig deep enough into the SSA website you will actually find a table that provides a multiplication factor for every year going back to before you were born. You can do the math, which I did, or just estimate it extends the years by 30 percent. So if your time comes out as 50 months multiply that by 1.3 to get 65 months. Of the few people that I know who did this the range was five years to nine years. Kind of a sobering thought since I expect to live more than nine years after I retire and know a lot of people that already have. Also that same sheet shows how much you and your employer paid into Medicare. Again if you have any serious medical condition that total will be wiped out quickly. At this point I ask again is that fair and again I think the answer is yes. Social Security and Medicare are basically as it’s called a “social insurance” policy run by the government. If you pass away before retirement your “premiums” go into the bucket that supports those that survive beyond the “average” life expectancy. The same is true with Medicare. The problem is the system is out of balance to the tune of $430B in 2016. Too much is going out and not enough coming in. The choices are raise the Social Security and Medicare taxes, not pay benefits until people are older, reduce what everyone receives monthly, use money collected from income taxes or increase the national debt. It should be obvious that congress has been doing the latter two for decades and hence we are $20T in debt. It’s not the only cause but I would postulate it is the biggest contributor.
In closing I will make the same pitch I have in my previous opinion articles and that is to support the president’s programs to grow our economy. More income taxes coming in will help everyone in the long run and in particular the elderly.