Report: US Spends Twice As Much On Law And Order As It Does On Cash Welfare


America used to spend as much on cash welfare as on police, prisons, and courts. That changed with the 80s war on drugs.

In a June 4 analysis, the Washington Post observes that the United States spends twice as much on “law and order” (police, prisons, and the court system) as it does on cash welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and supplemental Social Security payments).

  • Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman compiled this data for their book The Triumph of Injustice. The data comes from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis and includes spending for cash welfare and law and order at local, state, and federal levels.
  • Spending by American governments on both law and order and cash welfare was approximately the same up until the 1980s: around 1% of of total national income each.
  • The 1980s and 1990s saw massive investment in policing and prisons as part of the war on drugs.
  • In the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton and Republican lawmakers spearheaded welfare spending cuts.
  • The most recent numbers on spending place law and order at approximately 2% of total national income and cash welfare at 0.8%.
  • The Post claims that “together, the two lines trace a dramatic shift in national priorities” and that local governments have often followed suit. “many major cities spend as much as” 40% of their budgets “on policing, leaving a dwindling pool of resources for poverty prevention, infrastructure and everything else.”

The Post argues,

We funneled money away from poverty prevention to beef up our response to one of poverty’s biggest consequences: crime. We now treat the symptoms rather than the underlying disease.

Read more.


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