The Public Interest

The Social Security explosion

Martin S. Feldstein

Fall 1985

SOCIAL insurance programs of all kinds—including Social Security retirement benefits, unemployment insurance, and the federal government programs of health insurance—have exploded in magnitude during the past two decades of The Public Interest’s existence. Today these programs cost more than $300 billion a year and account for more than half of all federal government spending on non-defense programs. Twenty years ago, the total cost of these programs was only $19 billion. Even after adjusting for the general rise in prices, real outlays have increased sixfold between 1965 and 1985. As a result, the share of GNP spent in this way rose from 9..9 percent in 1965 to 7.7 percent now. For most American families, the taxes paid to finance these social insurance programs exceed the familys total income tax payments.

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