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6 Numbers That Show How Out of Whack America's Priorities Are

Americans constantly hear about the threat of "entitlements"—let's put things into perspective.
 
 
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Americans constantly hear about the threat of "entitlements," which in the case of Social Security and Medicare are more properly defined as "earned benefits." The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. The following  annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.

$220 Billion: Teacher Salaries

According to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics there are just over four million preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in the U.S., earning an average of $54,740.

$246 Billion: State and Local Pensions

Census data shows a total annual (2012) payout of about $246 billion. Only about $100 billion of this came from state and local governments, with the remainder funded by employee contributions and investment earnings. A recent  Pew study showed a little over $100 billion in annual state contributions to pensions, health care, and non-pension benefits.

$398 Billion: Safety Net

The 2013  safety net (non-medical) included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing.

$863 Billion: Social Security

Social Security is the major source of income for most of the elderly, and it is an earned benefit. As of 2010, according to the  Urban Institute, the average two-earner couple making average wages throughout their lifetimes receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid in.

$2,200 Billion: Tax Avoidance

That's $2.2 trillion in tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment. It is estimated that two-thirds of tax breaks accrue to the  top quintile of taxpayers.

$5,000 Billion: Investment Wealth

That's $5 trillion dollars a year, the annual amount  gained in U.S. wealth from the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013. Even though the whole country continued to grow in productivity, most of the new wealth went to the very richest people. According to  Oxfam, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

Another View: Annual Per Capita Numbers

The following are averages, which are skewed in the case of tax breaks and investment income, as a result of the excessive takings of the .1% and the .01%. Details of the calculations can be found  here.

$8,600 for each of the  Safety Net recipients

$14,600 for each of the  Social Security recipients

$27,333 for each of the  Pension recipients

$54,740 for each of the  Teachers

$200,000 for each of the  Tax Break recipients among the richest 1%

$500,000 for each of the  Investment Income recipients among the richest 1%

The super-rich feel they deserve all the tax breaks and the accumulation of wealth from the productivity of others.

This is the true threat of entitlement.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.