Buried deep on the website of the U.S. Census Bureau is a number every American citizen, and especially those entrusted with public office, should know. It is 86,429,000.
That is the number of Americans who in 2012 got up every morning and went to work — in the private sector — and did it week after week after week.
Of the 103,087,000 full-time, year-round workers, 16,606,000 worked for the government. That included 12,597,000 who worked for state and local government and 4,009,000 who worked for the federal government.
Why does he single out private sector workers? Don’t public sector workers work too (after a fashion)? Maybe so, but they are paid by the taxes of the 86 million private sector workers.
Which gets to his point:
At first glance, 86,429,000 might seem like a healthy population of full-time private-sector workers. But then you need to look at what they are up against.
The Census Bureau also estimates the size of the benefit-receiving population.
This population, too, falls into two broad categories. The first includes those who receive benefits for public services they performed or in exchange for payroll taxes they dutifully paid their entire working lives. Among these, for example, are those receiving veteran’s benefits, those on unemployment and those getting Medicare and Social Security.
The second category includes those who get “means-tested” government benefits — or welfare. These include, for example, those who get Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Women, Infants Children.
There were 108,592,000 million people in the fourth quarter of 2011 who lived in a household that included people on “one or more means-tested program.”
Those 108,592,000 outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private-sector workers who inhabited the United States in 2012 by almost 1.3 to 1.
This brings us to the first category of benefit receivers. There were 49,901,000 people receiving Social Security in the fourth quarter of 2011, and 46,440,000 receiving Medicare. There were also 5,098,000 getting unemployment compensation.
And there were also, 3,178,000 veteran receiving benefits and 34,000 veterans getting educational assistance.
All told, including both the welfare recipients and the non-welfare beneficiaries, there were 151,014,000 who “received benefits from one or more programs” in the fourth quarter of 2011. Subtract the 3,212,000 veterans, who served their country in the most profound way possible, and that leaves 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers.
The 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private sector workers 1.7 to 1.
How much more can the 86,429,000 endure?
Baby boomers are starting to retire. Each former worker who starts to collect benefits represents a two-person swing. (If ten people work to support ten beneficiaries, and one retires, the difference is now two, nine to eleven.)
One can make a moral case against this (it’s unfair and improper for a nation of 320 million people to be supported by barely a quarter of the population). But one doesn’t need to resort to moral arguments (fear not, liberals). Who thinks this is sustainable? When does the precarious balance come crashing down? Always sooner than you think is the answer.
And only Mark Steyn will be laughing as he cashes his royalty checks.