I don’t know what Barack Obama will have to say to America during his second inaugural address, but I certainly hope he does not use a phrase popular in Washington during all this discussion about fiscal austerity. The phrase is “entitlement spending”. There was a time when that phrase was meaningful, when retirees could enjoy Social Security because they paid into the Social Security system all their working lives, and when unemployed workers could collect under the insurance system because they paid premiums for that insurance all their working lives. Those days are gone. The amounts being paid out by the federal and state governments in unemployment compensation, Social Security, food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, welfare, disability claims – they are all components of a new category of government expenditure we need to call Survival Spending.
It’s not that people are no longer entitled to these government payments – they certainly are for some of them, especially Social Security. It is that people are in need of these payments for their survival and for the survival of their family. Survival means being able to afford the minimum necessities of life – shelter, food, clothing, transportation to work, and a modicum of health care. If you’re a parent, you have to be able to afford all these things, plus the cost of schooling, for your children.