Government Employees Get Paychecks, Not Handouts


While I don’t expect to change his final assessment, I’d like to correct a misunderstanding in Thomas Kolodziejczak’s letter in today’s Providence Journal, “Katz’s rightist ravings.” Responding to an op-ed of mine from the previous Saturday (“Apathy, fear as R.I. dusk turns to night”), Mr. Kolodziejczak paraphrases that I meant to suggest “that nearly 20 percent of the state population is employed by state or local government, is a retired employee or related to one.”

Actually, the “around twenty percent of the overall population [that] relies on government for direct handouts” is a different group from the “sixteen percent or more of the state’s working population” whom I cite as “employed by a state or local government.”  I suppose I could have been clearer, but I don’t consider money earned through work to be a “handout,” so I thought the two categories would be sufficiently distinct.  (Also, the “working population” is much smaller than the “overall population.”)

A total count of people who receive direct payments from government is difficult to find.  Partly that’s because there are so many programs, funded through so many mechanisms, run by so many tiers of government.  Partly it’s because there’s significant overlap from program to program.

By way of a sampling: around 4% of RI families participated in the state’s cash assistance program in 2006, per the latest annual report on the state’s Web site. The nearby Medicaid report (2010) puts total enrollment for that program at 21% of the population. Media reports recently put food stamp participation at 17% of the population.  Another 3% are on Social Security disability.

Putting these and other numbers together a while back, I concluded that it would be fair (conservatively) to say that direct government payments go to “around twenty percent” of the population.  Inasmuch as these programs require only that the applicant fits certain criteria, it’s reasonable to call them “handouts.”