Talk in certain political circles often includes discussion of what are called “makers” and “takers.”

The premise is that Americans who rely on government benefits are “takers,” while those who do not are “makers.”

Usually this assertion is touted by Republicans who say Democrats enable society’s slackers by supporting programs such as Medicaid and Obamacare. In contrast, they say Republicans are “makers,” who don’t rely on the government and instead pay the taxes that fund the slackers.

Most of us know people we consider slackers. We can tell anecdotes that seem to exemplify the maker-and-taker theory. A survey by Rasmussen Reports from about a year ago found 61 percent of Americans thought too many people received government aid, while 9 percent thought too few people received help from the government.

Who should get government help will always be up for debate, whether you’re talking about farm subsidies and economic development incentives or food stamps and Medicaid.

What an objective look at the data makes clear is that economics in America defy catchy political rhetoric that divides us into two groups: One that makes America great, and one that drags us down.

For example, an analysis from looked at how much residents of all the states pay the federal government and how much in aid and other funds they get from the federal government.

Among the biggest “taker” states were Republican strongholds such as Mississippi and Alaska. Among the “makers” were states such as New York and California, where Democrats dominate.

Kansas is ranked as a “taker” in the Moneytips analysis, coming in at 34 . In the Moneytips analysis, a sturdy majority of states in 2016 took more federal dollars than their residents paid in taxes.

But in a different analysis conducted by WalletHub, Kansas is ranked 49th — meaning it was among the least federally dependent states.

The difference between the two studies is mostly in what kinds of payments to states were included in the analyses and the weight given different factors. For example, were income taxes paid by individuals weighed more heavily than, say, grant payments to states? And did the studies include Social Security checks or contracts between the federal government and private companies?

It’s easy to find yourself in the weeds as you delve into statistics. And you can get lost in those weeds as you check that the numbers are solid by seeking out which states have lots of retirees, federal land or military basis.

The big question to keep in mind is whether political affiliation and the economic policies that go with it are a valid indicator of prosperity for a state and of self-sufficiency for the people who live there. Data shows they aren’t. There are many more reliable correlations, starting with family wealth and education.

Only when those kinds of factors are considered can we understand why some of the most Republican areas of the country — rural, white Alabama and Mississippi, for example — also have relatively high rates of government assistance, whether it be disability, food stamps or Medicaid.

A Washington Post analysis in March 2017 documented a huge increase in disability cases nationally, with much of the growth in rural areas. The report questioned whether the increase was due to health issues or a scarcity of jobs and dismal economic situations:

“Across large swaths of the country, disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks,” the Post analysis of Social Security Administration data found.

Much of the policy discussion regarding government aid in Kansas and elsewhere now portrays aid recipients as lazy, drug-addled deadbeats. Work requirements, drug tests and time caps are used to drive the point home.

Such requirements could be useful in some circumstances, if coupled with plausible paths out of poverty. But as currently styled, most of the requirements are more a political tactic rather than components in a sensible policy. Short-changing social and education services doesn’t help people out of poverty.

The evidence across the country is clear: If the goal is to build more productive and self-sufficient citizens, punishment and shame are inefficient tools.


A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.