Who Are The Biggest Moochers?

Author: Vale


There's been this meme floating around the internet for a year or two now. Anytime a conservative or libertarian mentions welfare or the 47%, the standard liberal retort is to cite that red "welfare" states receive more federal money than the IRS collects in taxes from that state. Liberal economist Paul Krugman would have you believe that Social Security and Medicare is what constitutes mooching. Their narrative is that Republicans are bigger moochers than Democrats. 

  • What is Mooching?

The problem with both of those claims is that it doesn't get to the heart of what "mooching" is. The problem with the first claim is that federal spending is made up mostly of defense expenditures at the the state level. Defense is not welfare. Actual welfare and poverty programs only amount to about 10% of the expenditures at the federal level. Now if a state received only funds for poverty programs, then you could claim that it is a welfare state. But unfortunately for their argument, this is not this case. PBS states, "In all but a handful of states, Department of Defense dollars account for by far the majority of federal dollars." (Other big ticket items that round out the list for state money from the federal government include farm subsidies, retirement programs and infrastructure projects) It's simply a function of flowing from the states without large defense operations and retired people to the states with them. If a less populated state has a large military base with a legion of personnel conducting operations should we be surprised that there might be an imbalance of funds? No, because it is a government organization that is not producing goods, but is consuming ammo, gas, food, electricity, salaries etc.. Also, most states don't tax military paychecks, which would somewhat offset the federal expenditure, so overall there is going to be a net draw of funds. But more to the point, national defense is a common good that benefits the whole country, so it can hardly be classified as mooching.
And then there are other problems with Krugman's claim. Does he really consider Social Security and Medicare recipients, who paid payroll taxes into the system their whole lives only to get a payout during retirement, a moocher? I don't think that is what constitutes a moocher in anyone's definition, except maybe for a very special liberal like Krugman. But wait, then there's another problem; how do you control for a state that is a retirement haven like Florida or Arizona? A good portion of these people worked in other states only to migrate to the retirement haven during their golden years. So this would show up on the books as a contribution in one state and later a draw in another. These are not the welfare queens that are what people have in mind when they are talking about government dependency. But they want to argue that the red-states/Republicans are moochers, so they've got to fit the right set of facts to fit their narrative somehow.

  • Misleading Statistics

Bloomberg jumped into the fray recently with an article attempting to stir up the debate. They titled it "Food Stamp Cut Backed by Republicans With Voters on Rolls" with the obvious implication that Republicans are the ones that benefit the most from food stamps. What did they find?

Among the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican Mitt Romney won 213 of them in last year’s presidential election, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg.

Aside from the obvious bias painting Republicans as heartless villains and Democrats the saviors with the "commitment to help those struggling to meet basic needs" line, the claim could sound pretty damning, right? Well, not if you are a critical thinker and ask the right questions.

The first point that came to mind for me was that Romney won a majority of the counties in the country. Ergo, there are more red counties for events to happen. They didn't use a rate and instead a raw number, so therefore even if the food stamp growth rate were uniformly distributed across the country's counties, more would register for red counties. I bet the counties that had a doubling of traffic accidents also went to Romney. The second point that came to mind is the fact that these counties are much smaller than counties that went to Obama. In fact, they are less than half the size as shown in Table I. There are more opportunities for doubling, because it is much easier for a small county with a small food stamp population to double it than it is for a large county with a large food stamp population to do the same. But does a small county with 5,000 people and 500 food stamp recipients have the same weight as a large county with 50,000 people and 5000 food stamp recipients? A related point is that, a jump from 1% to 2% is a doubling, but from 51% to 100% is not. What if the Republican counties were just that much more self-reliant to begin with? More on this in a bit, but Romney had 164 counties with food stamp use under 5%, compared with only 33 for Obama.

What they should have done was report the population-weighted food stamp rate by party according to county voting preferences. Seems to me that would get to the heart of the matter. Since they went through all the datasets to aggregate the figure they reported, I bet they calculated this figure and would have published it had it been the result they were looking to report. But since they didn't publish this figure, it tells you a lot of what they didn't find, huh? Sometimes omission contains information.

TableI*The Guardian dataset reports about 1000 more counties/areas than officially reported by the census. If matched on the second dataset discussed below, the results become even more favorable to my argument.

To solidify their conclusion in the article they pull out a single county "which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote, [and] has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among those that he carried." What was the proportion? 10%? 20%? How does it compare to Obama's county with the highest proportion? No mention of that. We'll get back to that later.

  • Examine Actual Dependency Data

But anyway why pussyfoot around with all the misleading metrics about federal spending and food stamp growth with TableIIsleight of hand? If you want to determine who are the biggest moochers, why not go straight to the welfare and food stamp data? (Especially since those who are on welfare are generally on a whole host of other dependency programs, pardon the pun). Well we know the reason, but since I am on the other side of this debate, I will go straight to the relevant and inconvenient facts. This probably won't surprise anyone unless they really believe the red state-moocher narrative. We'll start with the welfare data; blue states have an over-representation of welfare cases relative to their population sizes and as a consequence of the former, red states have under-representation based on their population sizes.

About 1.3% of the nation are on welfare proper. I say proper because there is a whole treasure trove of backdoor welfare programs that don't have the welfare label (think food stamps, tax credits and Social Security Disability), but I hope to run some analysis in the future if I can find all of these datasets. If the welfare population were uniformly distributed across the nation then each state would have 1.3% of their population on welfare. But what we find is that Democratic states have 24% more representation than the national average after adjusting for population size while Republicans have 43% less. And this is even giving Democrats Florida, which is one of the most evenly divided states in the union. Without Florida going to either party, Democratic states would be overrepresented by 33.7%. A shocking fact is that a full third of the welfare cases in the nation come just from the state of California, yet they only represent 12% of the nation's population.

If you want raw number of welfare dollars, you'll see that only two states out of the top 15 welfare spenders are red states (if I'm playing their game).
Even still, this is all a very indirect way of getting at the underlying issue of which party mooches more. Going back to the food stamps, here's a thought experiment: You could have a highly bifurcated county with lots of poor Democrats and lots of rich Republicans. Say all 49% of the Democrats are on food stamps and all 51% of the Republicans in the county are wealthy. Well the county would vote Republican, but the food stamp benefit ratio would also register highly (or vice versa, for that matter). In a more realistic case, you'd have 5% of the county on food stamps and the county could vote either way, but that wouldn't tell you if the 5% was Republican or Democrat. So it's really hard to pin down which party mooches more when looking at state or county level more unless you have individual dependency data matched with voting behavior. Alas, we do.

Before we go there, I could draw your attention to the summary page that shows the largest growth in food stamp use went mostly to blue states and the highest proportion of food stamp use goes to Washington DC followed by a mix of blue and red states. But I'm not going to play this game. Frankly, because I don't need to.

  • Actual Data Analysis

If you look at the interactive county map that shows the highest concentration of food stamp use, it does appear at first glance that the southern red states are the biggest offenders. But look a little deeper. Most would consider it to be racist to just point to a map showing racial representation, and since we have actual data on food stamp use, we can do better than just simple assumptions. But you will notice that in a majority of the cases, black recipients, a factor 93% correlated with Democrats, outnumber whites (a category that includes Hispanics) by a factor of two to one on average (even though whites outnumber blacks by a factor of 5 in the general population). In fact, running a beta regression on the percentage of blacks on food stamps against the percent of the population on food stamps (3.39, t-stat: 13.7) and the log of the county size (.12, t-stat: 10.1), and another on the percentage of whites on food stamps against the same variables (-1.71, t-stat: -7.3; 0.049, t-stat: 4.22), we find that county size is positively related to food stamp dependency in both cases (larger counties vote for Democrats), but at a faster rate for blacks, and that as the percentage of food stamp use in a county increases, it is positively associated with blacks and negatively associated with whites showing that, on average, most of the food stamp dependency comes from blacks, and therefore Democrats.


I decided to combine the two datasets on food stamps and voting to see what information would shake out. Some FIPS county numbers did not match between the two, but 2,654 counties resulted from this merged dataset. The average Romney county has 12.74% on food stamps, while the average Obama county has 14.94%, a statistically significant difference. I then ran a regression on the percentage of the population on food stamps against the population size, number of Obama votes, number of Romney votes and the percentage of the total county population that voted. As Table III shows, all variables are statistically significant. We find results that are similar to the above analysis. Food stamp use increases with the size of the population, which shows that that larger urban areas are meccas for government dependency. The kicker is that after holding the population constant, we find that food stamp use is positively related to Obama voters and strongly negatively related to Romney voters. This clearly shows that food stamp dependency is a factor mostly associated with Democrats.

  • More Data

What else?Chart1 For the years 2004-2007 the Maxwell school at Syracuse University has conducted a nationally representative poll that surveys questions pertaining to government dependency and political party affiliation. Given all the analysis already performed it should not be surprising that Democrats make up a majority of direct usage for these programs. For instance, as shown on the chart to the left, a full 81% of public housing, and 74% of Medicaid is consumed by Democrats. The worker's compensation proportion is interesting. Either Democrats get injured more often because they work in more dangerous industries, or they are more likely to use it as another backdoor welfare program.

We also know that Republicans earn about 40% more income than Democrats, on average. Voter exit polls for the most recent election showed that 63% of the sub $30,000 per year vote went to Obama and Obama voters were less likely to have jobs (and were younger). From a recent NPR poll surveying the long term unemployed, the Democrat's proportion is twice that of Republicans.

  • Closing

Liberals repeatedly question why conservatives "vote against their own interests." But maybe the simple answer is that they don't. Think about it, who would? The answer to this 'paradox' is because the ones who are actually voting for Republicans aren't mooching off the government. The Occam's razor answer was staring them right in the face the whole time, but they either couldn't see the facts, or deliberately ignored them for their agenda.

So there you have it - the "Red States are Welfare Queens" meme is only a Myth - Case Closed.


# Vale 2014-11-19 21:14
Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to have received food stamps at some point in their lives
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-7 # SMD 2013-10-07 10:41
Defense is not welfare, right. The pentagon cannot account for $2.3 trillion dollars, and the military's own auditors cannot account for 25% of it's annual budget. In the part of the budget that they can account for $24 billion goes to executive compensation of defense contractors.
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+4 # Vale 2013-10-08 17:17
First off, welfare is dependency. The states do not depend on the defense money, and nor do individuals. So we do not have dependency. Secondly, how much of the dollars are going to said contractors, or to military bases and pay. I don't have a list but maybe you do. If the contractor is headquartered in one state and reaping the profits there, but spending money on research and development and operations in another state, does that mean that the benefit is accruing in the headquarters? Feel free to go through all the contractors 10-Q reports and report back at your leisure. You'll find that pretty much all of those contractors are headquartered in blue states.
Third, if you are trying to equate government contractors with corporate welfare recipients, would it change your perspective if the government owned these organizations? Simply because the contractor exists to fulfill the needs of the government doesn't make it a "welfare," contrary to the typical liberal talking points. It makes it an industry.
Fourth, how do you equate fraud or incompetence in government record keeping with welfare?
Your comment needs more thought.
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-9 # Will 2013-09-06 04:19
That chart refers to TANF, which is paid for with a block grant to the state. For this reason red states aggressively move people off TANF and on to disability/food stamps, both of which are paid for by the federal government.

This is why food stamp numbers, as mentioned, are strongly weighted towards red states. So are disability numbers.

The above article just supports the idea that red states refuse to help their people and want Uncle Sam (i.e. everyone else) to do it for them, while blue states take care of their own.
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+8 # Vale 2013-09-09 22:44
Quoting Will:
both of which are paid for by the federal government.
So what is your point? The TANF funds that states receive still have to be spent on poverty programs, per the link below. Perhaps the red states just have a higher standard of self reliance.
Here's some benefit information by state too:
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+8 # carrytrade 2013-09-05 22:48
I love this article. You just drove a stake through the heart of one of the biggest liberal claims!
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# russ 2013-11-09 06:36
Kansas/Conn.?th e great Rand Paul/CC new jersey vs Kentucky debate?per capita raw federal money received from those two states is ~equal.NJ just sends three times the taxes per capita.NJ,and the whole northeast=blue families-more education,contr aception,deferr ed families,higher incomes,high tech,urban.Per capita what is the amount of money sent to the federal government from states like Alabama,Mississ ippi,Kentucky?R ed families-less education,less deferred families,low tech,less urban,etc.The central thrust of the 47% comment was that the blue guys get votes because they buy off the voters with a dole. This presumes that those with low incomes only vote their economic interest (but not in Kansas) as do those with high incomes. (But not in Conn.)The more nuanced interpretation is that after a certain amount of income other issues may predominate and that lower income voters don't neccessarily vote narrowly either.
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+9 # RobertWest 2013-09-05 17:16
This was really refreshing to read. It's nice to see an argument that was properly formulated with numerical data that is specific and to the point rather than an argument that presents data that is so generalized, it can easily be skewed and misinterpreted by those unwilling to look deeper.
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-13 # putupyourdukes 2013-09-05 16:12
Well your argument is flawed. Does it matter that california has HUGE welfare roles? Kinda, but when we refer to red states as welfare queens people are referring to how many tax dollars they pay into the federal system vs what they take.

California pays more in taxes to the feds than they receive from the feds. Most, as in all but 2-3, red states take more tax payer money then they pay into the system.

Nice charts but fundamentally your argument is worthless because you didn't understand the argument to begin with.
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+10 # Vale 2013-09-05 16:57
I think you are missing the whole point here, because everything you just referred to IS the issue and was discussed above. As a recap, defense spending is not welfare spending - it is a common good. The federal government chose where to spend the money for military bases exogenous to what the state collects in income taxes. It really wouldn't make sense for the federal government to only spend an exact amount of what comes out of an area because strategic military planning is a little more complicated than that. There probably isn't a lot of room for a military base in the middle of New York City. Would it make you feel better if the US built artificial islands off the Atlantic and Pacific and sent all defense spending there so that no state would have a positive flow of money?

So is California relevant? If you want to make claims about welfare, then you should look at welfare data. It is as simple as that. Total state federal spending that has mostly nothing to do with the variable of interest is the flawed way to go about it.
Does it matter that California has 33% of the Welfare cases in the nation even though the state only makes up 12% of the population? Yes, as a perfect example of the most liberal state in the union also having the most overrepresented welfare population.
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-11 # putupyourdukes 2013-09-05 23:25
Welfare for the states is welfare for the states. Sorry.

You can ignore that California pays way more in taxes to the feds then they take and try and spin it the other way, but facts are facts. Without federal spending most red states would be complete failures.
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+9 # Vale 2013-09-06 07:40
Quoting putupyourdukes:
Welfare for the states is welfare for the states. Sorry.
Please look up the definition of welfare.
Quoting putupyourdukes:
Without federal spending most red states would be complete failures.
Wow that is quite the claim. Please inform us all which state has 100% of its GDP that matches federal spending. In fact, I'll go ahead and do your homework for you since you aren't going to. The state with the biggest imbalance per capita and the smallest state GDP is Alaska. The GDP of Alaska is $52 billion. Federal spending is $1.7 billion. Alaska would do just fine without federal spending, as would every other state.
You can try to weasel the welfare claim all you want, but the fact remains the "red states are welfare queens" claim is factually invalidated. . and
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-6 # putupyourdukeskes 2013-09-06 11:07
Like I said. You still haven't refuted the original premise that makes red states welfare queens. They suck more out of tax payers than they put into the system.

You can scream from the roof tops that defense spending is the cause, well it's also the problem.

f-35/f-22s are a waste of tax payer dollars and so are most giant military projects that dumped into red states.
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+8 # Vale 2013-09-06 15:27
We can play this game all day long. You, me, and everyone else here knows what the implication of those articles is. You can dance around it all you want and it doesn't change that fact.

You know and I know that the original claim is trying to mislead people to equate Republicans to welfare/food stamp use. Anybody who has bothered to look at article comments, discussion boards, or twitter comments knows that this is the conclusion that people are drawing from those articles. Clearly this is intentional for these authors with the mention of "red-states" as if there is something unique to Republican ideology that causes it to be so, or that "Republicans are voting against their own interests." They are trying to change perception. The conclusion instead could be "less populated southern states that happen to have more available land have large military bases compared to their larger peers and therefore draw more federal funds than the state collects." But it is not phrased that way because it doesn't have the "unexpected twist" or sensationalism. Why are there no articles detailing the 'welfare' (and using that term) for the rest of the world drawing our military dollars, but not contributing to pay for the operations? Probably because 1) they don't house Republicans and 2) they aren't expected to pay for these military operations. Is it expected that the southern states pick up the whole tab for defense operations in their states? And finally, as mentioned above, the amount of money in question isn't even that large to begin with so the states do not depend on these dollars and they would be fine without them.
As for the usefulness of these defense dollars, well, that's a whole other discussion. Thanks for commenting though.
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+9 # Frov 2013-09-16 13:03
I really enjoyed the article. Ever since I took Stats 101 (a class I didn't want to take but had to), that first week had zero stats in it, but all about what makes up a "stat". Since then, I've learned to question a lot of stats, trying to get to the most common basic factor, and that's what you did in your article.

I think we can tell who/what putupyourdukesk es is. When you can't win with the real numbers or facts, you just go to the fake ones, which are technically lies because you're intentionally trying to deceive.

If you really did the work and crunched more numbers on "hand outs", I think you would start to see a bigger slide towards Dem voters vs Rep voters. This is speculation on my part, but using your own info about CA being the recipiant of 1/3 of food stamps, and Rep voters earn 40% more, and that 63% of sub $30k voters were Dem, I think you'll see that negative tax filers are as a majority Dem voters. The biggest culprit being EITC recipients. If you investigated that, I bet you could find a strong correlation.

Good research, thanks, I'll be reading this a number of more times and referencing it quite a bit. I don't know if this is something with your article or the site in general, or a tech issue for just me, but I can't click/drag to select or right-click links to open them. Makes it harder to quote you elsewhere.

Thanks for the good work.
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