I wanted to compare some data and found a nice series for government spending going back to 1969. Not sure why they started the data in 1969, but they did. So I started thinking about what things were like about 50 years ago.
I started with my favorite subject, me. I finished my BS in Industrial Management at Georgia Tech in June of 1968 and to escape the draft, I started an MS program there. Strangely enough, the draft was not impressed by my love of Industrial Management, so they sent me a draft notice in late 1968. They let me finish two quarters of my new program and asked me to report for basic training in March of 1969. So in 1969 I was about 23 years old and was spending time training in Texas and Colorado. I finally settled into an Air Force base in Tucson, Arizona. I was an Airman First Class. I had one stripe. I think I made less than $100 per month.
On that salary I was lucky that a stamp cost 6 cents and a gallon of gas was about 35 cents, which made it economical to drive down to Nogales, Mexico to buy rum. A dozen eggs was 62 cents. For real people who could think about such things because they had a median income of about $8,300, a car cost about $2,000 and a decent house ran $30,000.
I was fully employed in the USAF in 1969. The national unemployment rate was 3.5%. A recession started in December 1969 so the unemployment rate started rising in 1970. The inflation rate was 4.5% in 1969. I could remind you of more – but that’s probably enough for the purposes today.
My main purpose is to look at how we spend the government’s money today compared to 1969. The table below shows 1969 spending in billions of dollars and as a percent of total government spending.
Total Government 183.6 100
Total Mandatory 53.6 29
Social Security 26.7 15
Medicare 6.3 3
Medicaid 2.3 1
Our beginning situation finds government spending of about $184 billion in 1969. What we refer to as Mandatory Spending comprised a little more than a quarter of that total spending. Social Security spending was responsible for most of that – and amounted to 15% of total government spending. Medicare and Medicaid were toddlers in monetary terms – accounting for about 4% of all government spending in 1969.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. For example, my forehead has grown several thousand percent since I was 23, and my time in a 10K race might have tripled. In basic training we had to run a mile in less than 6 minutes with combat boots on. I am not kidding. Anyway, let’s look at our government in 2016.
Total Government 3,853 100
Total Mandatory 2,428 63
Social Security 910 24
Medicare 693 18
Medicaid 368 10
As you might expect, if all the things we buy went up in price then government spending would do the same, and it did. Government spending went from $184 billion to $3,853 billion. That’s an increase of 21 times. Notice that if median income had gone up 21 times, it would now be about $174,000. So let’s give a big cheer for government growth. Way to go, government.
The above table shows that total Mandatory Spending went from being 29% of total government spending to 63% in 2016. That means – tada – that Mandatory Spending went up a lot faster than overall government. Mandatory Spending went up 45 times in 47 years! If median income had gone up that much, the median person today would be making $374,000 per year. You guys all make that amount, right?
You smarty-pants are starting to get my drift. Now let’s look at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. To cut to the chase, Social Security went up 34 times; Medicare by 110 times; Medicaid by 160 times. These three programs have gone from being 19% of all government spending to 52% of it. Or put another way, all the other things the government spends on went from being 81% of the budget to 48%.
I know I harp on this point a lot. But the baby boom generation is just getting started. We were born from 1946 to 1964. Those born in 1964 are mere babies in their fifties. If we don’t focus more on how we spend money on the old folks, then the rest of you are going to have to live on a lot less. Maybe you should think about it a little more. In case you are interested, if median income had gone up by the same number of times as Medicaid (160 times) we'd each be making about $1.3 million a year. Sweet.