This isn't much of a surprise; an aging population eligible for old age benefits like Social Security and Medicare, plus a deep recession that we are still trying to get out of.
But it's still shocking to see that in 2008, that number was 44.4%.
Wall Street Journal:
The 49.1% of the population in a household that gets benefits is up from 30% in the early 1980s and 44.4% as recently as the third quarter of 2008.
The increase in recent years is likely due in large part to the lingering effects of the recession. As of early 2011, 15% of people lived in a household that received food stamps, 26% had someone enrolled in Medicaid and 2% had a member receiving unemployment benefits. Families doubling up to save money or pool expenses also is likely leading to more multigenerational households. But even without the effects of the recession, there would be a larger reliance on government.
The Census data show that 16% of the population lives in a household where at least one member receives Social Security and 15% receive or live with someone who gets Medicare. There is likely a lot of overlap, since Social Security and Medicare tend to go hand in hand, but those percentages also are likely to increase as the Baby Boom generation ages.
With increased government spending comes the need to pay for it, and if taxes aren't going to increase that means deficits. Nearly three-quarters of Americans blame the U.S. budget deficit on spending too much money on federal programs, according to a Gallup poll last year, but when the conversation turns to which programs to cut, the majorities are harder to find. For example, 56% of respondents oppose making significant changes to Social Security or Medicare.
That's a lot of voters dependent on government.
It should be noted that a lot of Social Security recipients vote Republican. The GOP owns solid majorities in the 65 and over age group. But if Romney is to be successful, he is going to have to change Social Security and Medicare - perhaps not as dramatically as the Ryan plan calls for, but a start must be made in getting a handle on costs for those two programs . And the Democrats will make sure to portray that as an attack on retirees.
So while at the moment, it is not a straight up question of dependents vs. producers, we are certainly headed in that direction.