Occupy CMS! The top 1% are taking more and more government benefits that used to go to the poor

by Ryan Streeter on December 6, 2011. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

In a new Forbes column Sally Pipes takes a look at CBO’s study this fall on income distribution over the past 30 years and notes:

Researchers found that while the total amount of benefits paid out by government social safety-net programs rose between 1979 and 2007, the share going to the poor actually shrank.

Why? Because, as the CBO study shows, Medicare and Social Security are starting to eat up the overall share of government transfer payments to individuals. In 1979 about half of all government transfers (what we’d think of as “welfare,” generally) went to households in the lowest 20%, whereas only 35% of those transfers to the bottom quintile today.

This graph from p. 21 of the CBO full report shows what’s going on:

Medicare is the only line that is noticeably increasing over time, and it’s only going to rise even more noticeably in coming years, as will the Social Security line.

The increase in the 1%’s share of income is owing to other factors primarily, but it’s just crazy that means-testing big entitlement programs has so little popular support. Means-testing them is a pillar of Republicans’ reform proposals, but very few conservative grassroots leaders talk much about them. The Tea Party has never made the idea central to what it’s about, even though it would have more to do with slowing the government spending they care about than shutting down USAID or the Department of Education.