US congressman Paul Ryan wants to "strengthen welfare for those who need it" and "end it for those who don’t". And to hard working Americans that sounded reasonable enough … until some of them realised he might be talking about Medicare and Social Security. How could benefits for people who’ve worked and paid taxes all their lives be welfare?
When Washington Post columnist Robert J Samuelson insisted that Medicare and Social Security were welfare readers were incredulous and offended. As one put it: “Let’s refrain from insulting individuals who have worked all their lives and contributed to the system for 50-plus years by insinuating that [their] earned benefits are welfare.”
Now Paul Ryan is attracting the same kind of criticism. As Dr Bill Thomas put it: "Sorry dude but neither Social Security nor Medicare is ‘welfare. They are social insurance programs that provide pensions and health care to older people who have paid into them their entire lives."
But according to analysis by the Urban Institute, most seniors will receive much more in benefits than they ever paid in contributions. For example, a two-earner couple turning 65 in 2010 with one spouse earning an average wage ($43,100 in 2010) and one earning a low wage ($19,400 in 2010) will receive $800,000 in benefits but will have paid in only $500,000.
At The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell writes: "Medicare is about as obvious an example of welfare as one could possibly imagine – a program intended to spend government money on providing services to a population that would otherwise be vulnerable".