Magic Accounting

‘Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It,” read the front-page headline in the February 12 issue of the New York Times. Reporting from Chisago County, north of Minneapolis, the paper’s Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff found several residents who, although they describe themselves as “self-sufficient members of the American middle class” and “opponents of government largesse,” are “drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.” One says, “I don’t feel like I need the government,” even though he supplements his $39,000 income with Earned Income Tax Credit refunds, his three younger children receive federal subsidies for their school breakfasts and lunches, and Medicare recently paid for his mother’s hip surgeries.

Appelbaum and Gebeloff interviewed several other people who “continue to take as much help from the government as they can get,” despite being skeptical about government programs. “When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears.”

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