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Obama by the numbers: A way above average president

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama

First a plea for humility, then a confession, then a recommendation.

Judging a president’s performance is fraught with peril. Most of us are blinkered by partisan and ideological bias that makes us more likely to notice the successes or only the failures. There is no good set of rules or norms that tells us which indicators to notice or emphasize.

Then there’s the difficulty of deciding which of the myriad things that happened in the country or the world are actually the result of the president’s policies. There’s the problem that a president often can’t put in place the policies he favors because of lack of cooperation from Congress. I suspect I could name several more problems with our perceptions of a president, and perhaps many of them are more problematic than usual in the case of Barack Obama (or perhaps it just seems that way with each new president, especially in this era of polarization).

Now the confession. I’m a pretty solid Obama admirer. I voted for him, approved of many of his major initiatives and have grown weary of the tendency of his critics to blame Obama for everything they don’t like about the economy or the country or the world, a quality that has sometimes been referred to as “Obama derangement syndrome.”

(For the record, and in the spirit of fairness, I should note that righty columnist Charles Krauthammer previously claimed to have discovered a previous “Bush Derangement Syndrome” in 2003, personified by Howard Dean and a few others.)

Now the recommendation: The estimable has been publishing a quarterly report called “Obama’s numbers” in which the factcheckers update a set of statistical measurements comparing the most recent numbers (for various things like unemployment, government debt and so forth), in all cases comparing the latest numbers to where they stood on the day Obama took office. It’s called “Obama’s Numbers.” The most recent quarterly update was published last week.

The recommendation is to take a look at it. It is, of course, imperfect as any such effort must be for many reasons alluded to above (it doesn’t measure everything, but by its nature it does somehow imply that everything that happened since Inauguration Day 2009 is a reflection of the Obamaness of the intervening six and a half years).

And, confirmation bias or no, I think it makes a pretty good case for Obama as a way above average president.

Here’s the link.

In case you are too busy or lazy to click through, here’s the summary section:

Since Barack Obama first took office:

  • The economy has added nearly 7.9 million jobs, and the unemployment rate is now lower than the historical median.
  • Business establishment start-ups have increased by 20 percent, and the number of job openings is the highest in more than 14 years.
  • The purchasing power of weekly paychecks is up 2.6 percent, despite some recent slippage.
  • Nevertheless, the number of people receiving food stamps is still 43 percent higher than when Obama was first sworn in, despite recent declines.
  • And the home ownership rate has continued to decline, to the lowest point in over a quarter century.
  • U.S. oil production is up 94 percent. Wind and solar power are up 252 percent.
  • U.S. dependency on oil imports is down to the lowest point since the 1970s.
  • The percentage of foreigners who say they approve of the U.S. is up in most countries including France, Britain, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan and even Israel, where it stands at 81 percent of those polled this year. One of the few exceptions is Russia, where U.S. favorability has plunged to 15 percent.

Comments (87)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/13/2015 - 10:07 am.

    There you go again, trying to refute opinions with facts.

    Don’t you know you are part of the liberal media conspiracy to defeat America?

  2. Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/13/2015 - 10:39 am.

    What’s the saddest commentary of all

    Eric feels compelled to devote roughly half the space to preemptively debunking the ideological pushback to these facts.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/15/2015 - 09:07 am.

      Recognizing the weakness

      in a correlation is not preemptive, it’s something that should be commonplace. Instead, we get simplistic and simple-minded assertions from all sides on virtually every issue. The common denominator is a lack of critical thinking.

      Bush received the same ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) treatment as have most other presidents, from one side or another.

      All gods have feet of clay, all demons have hearts and minds.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 07/13/2015 - 10:55 am.

    Lowest labor participation rate in decades, median household income dropped (affecting the middle class he loves to talk about the most) since 2009, more people on Govt assistance than ever and division politics at a fevered pitch (hate the rich, racism, cling to your bible and guns, Christian vs gays, poor schools = lack of money) take any issue today and look how it is used to divide our country into groups. Rule number 1 for division politics get certain groups hating other groups for their views, don’t have a dialogue, just have discord. We are there as a country.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/13/2015 - 11:21 am.

      Looking in a mirror is a tricky thing. Sometimes you can confuse who you see in a mirror as someone else.

      The issue of income inequality and wealth accumulation is distorted into “hate the rich”.

      The unreasoning “birther” meme, and “secret Muslim” and “African monkey” memes have nothing to do with racism. Neither does claiming the Mexican immigrants are largely rapist murderers. And let’s pretend that the Civil War was “the war of Northern aggression against Southern Constitutionalists”

      And the conversation about gun control and the role of religion in America becomes a “hate for America’s Constitution”..

      All about some people thinking that they are better than their station in life.

      Uppity, you might say.

      And there you have your Rule # 1. Wedge issue(s).

      Born in the days of Nixon.

      Now what was that old chestnut?

      Race and desegregation lives on–just as powerful as ever.

      Damn mirror.

    • Submitted by Jim Camery on 07/13/2015 - 11:31 am.


      Median household income has been dropping since Reagan. Labor participation rate is because the boomer bubble is retiring and will continue to drop if the next president is Alexander Hamilton or MIckey Mouse.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/13/2015 - 11:47 am.

      Division Politics at a Fevered Pitch

      Who is responsible for that?

      Republicans and conservatives have practiced division politics for years. Let’s talk about the “southern strategy.” Let’s talk about St. Ronald of Burbank kicking off his 1980 campaign with a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi proclaiming his belief in “states’s rights.”

      Let’s talk about the demonization of gays. It’s more than just marriage–it even goes so low as to oppose anti-bullying measures in schools. It also descends to characterizing the issue as “Christians vs gays.”

      Let’s talk about “hate the rich,” and how corporate power has steadily increased in America, and how the wealthiest have grown ever wealthier, even while upward mobility has declined.

      Let’s talk about guns; or rather, we can’t. Any attempt at a sane discussion about guns, even unto asking if there are guns in a house with young children, is taboo.

      Let’s talk about the party that has used social issues–abortion, contraception, etc.–to excite its base. Which party is worried about losing its base, because the public at large doesn’t want to hear about these issues any more?

      Let’s talk about “dialogue.” Let’s talk about the characterization of liberals as anti-American. Mr. Limbaugh, would you care to weigh in? Mr. Beck? How about the relatively respectable boys over at PowerLine–what do they have to say on this? Perhaps the elected officials who vowed to oppose everything the President did, without any regard for the merits–I’m sure they will have a lot to say about how the President never reached out to them.

      Blaming President Obama for the discord is as absurd as claiming that he is not a citizen (Gee, does anyone in any party still believe that? Only 34% of Republicans? Wow, that’s progress!).

    • Submitted by Robert McManus on 07/13/2015 - 12:19 pm.

      I think there is one group of group thinkers that is much more responsible for the politics of division than the other group of group thinkers.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/13/2015 - 12:47 pm.

      Division politics

      There is a lot of division, but its not coming from Obama. There isn’t a fight between Christians and gays in this country. Most Christians (including the president) support gay rights and gay marriage, and many others who don’t still don’t feel the need to deny civil rights to others. The division comes from those pushing the false dichotomy that supporting gay rights is anti-Christian.

      I’m also curious about what kind of dialogue Obama should have used when his citizenship and birthplace was repeatedly challenged. Was Obama being divisive because some people couldn’t accept facts?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/13/2015 - 01:13 pm.


      Actually read the article that Eric links to.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/13/2015 - 11:35 am.

    What’s left out

    …is that, whatever Obama has managed to accomplish – below, at, or above “average” – it’s been done despite the active, ongoing and relentless hostility of Congressional Republicans in both House and Senate. Much of that hostility is simply unfiltered racial prejudice – similar to the ongoing Republican hostility to women that is often equally-unfiltered misogyny – but some of it is due to the conviction, common among zealots around the world, that any degree of disagreement with what they regard as revealed truth is essentially treason. It’s not hard to visualize Mitch McConnell and/or John Boehner stamping their feet and having the old man’s equivalent of a temper tantrum when Obama was reelected in 2012, since they’d already spent 4 years and a lot of money and time doing their best to sabotage every Obama initiative they could. That hostility has continued throughout Obama’s second term.

    Instead of embracing change in relations with Cuba, for example, McConnell has already said publicly that it makes no difference who Obama nominates as ambassador to Cuba, that person, regardless of gender, views, or hair style, will not be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate. McConnell’s claims regarding Congressionally-imposed sanctions and other policies instituted half a century ago ring more than a little hollow in 2015. He even invoked cold war fears of communism, when plenty of Republican-voting businessmen are doing quite profitable business all year long with “communist” firms in China.

    Whatever Obama proposes, Congressional Republicans oppose reflexively. Reaching across the aisle becomes much more difficult when the folks on the other side keep stabbing your hand every time you propose something that doesn’t fit their ideology.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/13/2015 - 12:53 pm.

    Given the McConnell Fact

    Given the fact Mitch McConnell stated his ONLY goal was to make President Obama a one term president and the GOP in congress only knows the word NO! Mitch failed! The President has done well. Ideas that were originally the GOP’s, like The Affordable care Act, they are against for no rational reason. Someday all the Republican’s will realize the benefits of the ACA and wish they hadn’t called it Obamacare. If you want to know what is going on in America, listen to the GOP circus, and assume the exact opposite. You will be right more than you will be wrong. The GOP has plenty of criticisms, the easy part, but zero answers, the hard part. The GOP circus is obviously going for quantity vs quality. The GOP circus is what leaderless looks like.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/13/2015 - 05:03 pm.

      Tom, when Obama had a veto proof congress his 1st two years if he truly wanted comprehensive immigration policy and other wedge issues he would have pressed his side to push it through just as he did Obamacare. How is that the GOP’s fault? Then the next Two yrs he had 2/3 of power in Democratic control, again little getting done.

      • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 07/13/2015 - 05:21 pm.

        Two month veto proof majority is more like it

        The amount of time where the Democrats had a veto proof majority was 60 days and congress was not in session for all of those days.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/13/2015 - 06:43 pm.

        I agree he was slow off the mark but,

        Immigration isn’t a political issue it is a very moral issue that politicians have to fix, but won’t. The immigration problem was created by politicians through decades of inaction. Mexicans were allowed to come here to work for abusively low wages because, according to politicians, they were the only ones who would do the work. Immigration isn’t a political issue it is a very moral issue. The Mexican’s did their work, many had children, and now their families contain Mexican citizens and American citizens. Immigration isn’t a political issue it is a very moral issue. The Senate has passed a bipartisan immigration bill, by a margin that couldn’t be filibustered. The total lack of leadership in the House has John Boehner unwilling to even put an immigration bill up for a vote because he is afraid of the politics of it. Immigration isn’t a political issue it is a very moral issue. The GOP keeps chipping away at its moral core. The Blacks and Asians have left the party, Women are leaving the party, soon to be followed by the Hispanics. The GOP has lost its moral core. Pretty soon the GOP will be nothing more than the rich old white guys’ party.

        The GOP governing for the next year will be interesting given the shortage of leadership they have. Come to think of it 2016 will be interesting given their field of candidates. The GOP has run out of quality, capable leaders. How can the GOP look like they are doing something for the next year without doing anything? Maybe the Dems approach can be to claim Boehner isn’t a citizen of the US. Maybe the Dems should claim their ONLY goal is to make sure the newly elected GOP are for one term only. Maybe the Dems should claim everything the GOP does is unconstitutional, but not provide any proof. Maybe they should claim if the proposed GOP move happens there will civil disobedience and anarchy in the streets. Maybe the Dems should claim everything the GOP does is a conspiracy. Maybe the Dems should do everything in their power to go counter to the system. Maybe there should be a hollow din of Dem noise with words like unconstitutional, conspiracy, threats, and no, woven into every sentence. Maybe the Dems should look into the origin of Boehner’s skin tone. Maybe the Dems should darken the skin of Boehner in campaign photos to make him look like he is undesirable. Maybe the Dems shouldn’t negotiate with the GOP because they want it all their way. Maybe the Dems should criticize everything but not offer any alternatives. Maybe everything the Dems propose should contain a guaranteed politically poison pill, but claim they proposed something. Just maybe we should claim the sky is falling every 15 seconds. It could be a continuation of the GOP’s six years of “fun” if it weren’t such a sad series of events to put the country through. It is hardly what our founding fathers had in mind. Then lets see what Mitch and John can get done in the next year. My guess nothing.

      • Submitted by Howard Miller on 07/14/2015 - 05:12 pm.

        the facts of Democratic “veto-proof” control of the Senate

        President Obama focused on economic recovery and health care reform early in his presidency. He turned to immigration reform once those two highest priority issues were much improved.

        As to his “veto-proof” control in Congress ….. here’s a short paste from an artice on that:

        “So, to the extent there was a filibuster proof majority in the Senate it lasted during two brief periods which lasted for a total of just over five months when counted altogether (and Congress was in its traditional summer recess for most of the July-August 2009 time frame).”

        meanwhile, Republicans immediately turned to obstruction when the minority party in Congress, and continued once Barack Obama took his oath of office.

        One could be forgiven for concluding Republicans simply obstructed effective governing since the 2007 Congress was seated, only backed off when they won both Chambers for 2013 going forward.

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/13/2015 - 12:42 pm.

    is it the individual or the opportunity?

    When Obama took office, the only direction to go was up. Does that make BHO a transformative POTUS, or does he merely benefit from starting in the hole? Same could be asked of RWR in 1980/81 I think.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/13/2015 - 01:16 pm.


      While things were bad they could have gotten worse.
      Note that when Reagan was first elected he cut taxes and the economy got worse.
      He then reversed course (unlike the people who now invoke his name).

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/13/2015 - 01:23 pm.

      So what your are saying, it’s kind of the opposite of being born on 3rd base and thinking you hit a home run—more like starting out selling hot dogs in the stand, being brought into the game, and hitting a double and driving home a couple of runs, all the while the catcher and pitcher of the opposing team are hanging on to your ankles ?

  7. Submitted by Roger Brooks on 07/13/2015 - 03:13 pm.

    For some perspective

    Check out the Wikipedia entry on rating presidents:

    I’m guessing that unless things change drastically over the next two years Obama will be seen as a second quartile president, pretty good but not great.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/13/2015 - 05:28 pm.


      This is based on one poll in 2010 and one in 2015.
      Many things (such as the number of people covered under the ACA) are likely to change over the next few years. Presidents often look different in retrospect than they doing during their presidencies.
      In many cases (particularly in the most recent polls) the results are clearly based on bimodal distributions of the two political parties, which is why someone can be rated -both- best and worst by large proportions of respondents.
      And of course these are mostly opinions, not analyses.

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/13/2015 - 05:30 pm.

      Can you…..

      give us a more credible source, please?

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/13/2015 - 09:57 pm.


        that this is addressed to me…
        my point is that there IS no credible source right now to rank Obama as a president.
        Come back in ten or twenty years.

  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 07/13/2015 - 05:16 pm.

    Good Balance

    I personally think the Republicans and Obama have been doing a good job of keeping spending increases down and raising taxes on the wealthy somewhat during the past 5+ years. Now if we could keep this going for another 4 years we may actually get back to surpluses and paying down some of that massive National Debt that they have been ignoring. Without the creative conflict, I pretty sure either side would have made things worse.

    Then there is also that pending SS and Medicare disaster that they all have been avoiding… Please remember that SS Disability is already on the edge of the precipice. And that we should be getting closer to the ~8 year recession cycle…

    Maybe they deserve a B-…

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/13/2015 - 06:53 pm.

    What a shock!

    Mr. Black concludes that MR. Obama is an above average president. Is that a surprise?

    Next thing Mr. Black will be endorsing H.C. because we need to get the big money out of politics and usher in a new era of transparency.

  10. Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 07/13/2015 - 07:16 pm.

    Nearly all of the income growth….

    … since Obama took office has gone to the top 10%. Obama listens to Wall Street. Health care reform excluded a public option even though the majority of the public wanted it. Obama listens to health insurance big wigs. TPP and TTIP is crafted by corporate representatives while congress was kept in the dark. TPP and TTIP are nothing more than a supercharged expansion of NAFTA that will yet again undercut the middle class. Obama listens to multinationals. I can’t help but chuckle when reactionaries label Obama a socialist. Cutting the middle class off at the knees wasn’t the change I was hoping for.

  11. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 07/13/2015 - 07:36 pm.

    The TPP

    How could anyone say positive thing about Obama at this point especially with his scorched earth attack to get Fast-Track authority for the TPP. In case you missed it our first black president (who I voted for once) decided to move Malaysia off the worst offenders list so their pesky problem with slavery doesn’t get in the way of his FT TPP authority. Besides not supporting Gay Marriage through his first term, doing everything possible to make sure no Wall Street crooks ever got prosecuted (his most common golf and dinner associates), opening the Atlantic coast shelf to oil drilling, offering cuts to Social Security in every budget proposal, spying on Americans worse than any administration ever, punishing whistle-blowers worse than any administration, giving away Medicare’s ability to negotiate drug pricing so to get the Heritage Foundation based healthcare program passed (ACA), having the 17 city smack down on Occupy Wall Street orchestrated by Administration level Homeland Security, and there is so much more. How sad 🙁

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/14/2015 - 09:47 am.

    Iran deal

    The Republicans are knocking it before they even have a chance to read it.

  13. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 07/14/2015 - 10:54 am.

    I applaud Obama on most stands he’s taken…all but one

    Working under the massive handicap of an ultra conservative Republican congress, Obama has done well.

    And with Kerry a persistent statesman moving for closure on the Iran deal, there is hope for something better in spite of one weak congress.

    Now it may be time to look to our own nuke programs and careless care and feeding of those loose nukes of ours that came to pass essentially under the Bush administration:

    Good to remember that it may not happen again, like… put “Minot” in the search machine on “Air Force Times” and lots of careless care reports come up…old stuff and has been corrected now, hopefully:
    “Air Force admits nuke flaws but will fixes work?” Associated Press.P 12/22/2014…”Disciplinary acts against Air Force nuke officers topped 16″ Associated Press 11/4/2014

    What if other countries demanded inspections as we demand of others…would we pass the tests we place on others…do we trust them…can we trust ourselves; can others trust us? That too is part of the calculus on the world stage we live in?

    All I can say of Obama is he is doing well and history will treat him well, but for his actions or support of same; his reponseto and acts activated in the Snowden affair?

    I questionn his ostracizing Snowden without due process for what Snowden revealed and the administration has now acknowledged?

    It is we the people have become the sad beneficiaries of that overt surveillance debacle? Consequently are we not all the victims of the right of privacy- the the right to speak out- a most serious broken trust and call constitution abuse…that is, if it wasn’t for Snowden and a reluctant administration after the fact?

    So it goes….you may think otherwise.

  14. Submitted by Jerry Nord on 07/14/2015 - 12:03 pm.

    By the numbers

    I appreciate you stating you voted and admire Obama but take exception to how you can rate a person so early. What appears to be good, with a little favoritism thrown it to make that judgement, may not necessarily be good in the future. As past Presidents have answered when asked if they think their decisions/actions were the right thing is “Only History Will Tell”. Same for Obamas actions, Executive authority and his biases/racism judgements. Wait a few years and reexamine your statements.

  15. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 07/14/2015 - 10:26 pm.

    Presidential Ratings

    Obama can never be a good president in my book.

    He has forgotten that a president must keep in mind that he is president of ALL the people–not just some. He had opportunity to be a racial uniter, but has been a divider.
    The people he claims to help are the worst off under his policies. He has made their lives more difficult and expensive at every turn. After the 2009 downturn we should have posted a string of years with 4-5% annual growth. Instead it has been mostly 1-2%. This is opportunity missed for .compounding, and we will NEVER get it back.
    Arrogant and entitled–He takes multi-million dollar vacations (sometimes SEPARATE from his wife) at taxpayer expense. Much like Bill and Hillary, he has PRIMARILY used the office to achieve substantial personal wealth.
    He has used immigration as a political cudgel, but has done NOTHING to fix it.
    Domestic oil and gas production are up IN SPITE of Obama, not because of anything he has done to make it easier.

    Worst…he has NO COMPUNCTION about turning the legal (Justice Dept), tax (IRS), and regulatory agencies DOL, EPA, Fish and Wildlife, etc. into political tools to attack his opponents. You can laugh this off until you have been there. The government never runs out of lawyers before you run out of money.

    At the end of the day, Obama is a collectivist. I am not. I favor the individual over the collective, and thus, a place a higher premium on individual freedom and autonomy than most people posting comments on this piece. That also tends to favor a far more limited government. By that yardstick, it has been a dismal presidency.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/15/2015 - 06:49 am.

    He has forgotten that a president must keep in mind that he is president of ALL the people–not just some.

    Here is one example to consider. Obamacare makes subsidies to health care available to all Americans. Yet we just went through a litigation, in which Republicans argues that health care subsidies should be limited only to states that have established their own exchanges. And Republicans have, in each and every state, have argued that their state should not set up health exchanges, which in their view, would deny their citizens the subsidies.

    That being the case, how can it possibly be argued that our president seeks to be the president of all people, and that it’s Republicans who are fiercely, if unsuccessfully standing in the way?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/15/2015 - 02:24 pm.

      Another Perspective

      The President is primarily concerned about the ~20% who he wanted to provide with free / low cost insurance. Not the 80% who would have to pay more each month to fund the free policies and premium subsidies.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/15/2015 - 06:14 pm.


        he’s concerned with progressing US healthcare out of the dark ages for ALL Americans. It’s ironic that the people who claim that Obama is “divisive” seem to be doing all of the dividing.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/15/2015 - 09:00 pm.


          I think those who believe they are “inclusive” should support that “All” citizens, who are healthy and capable, pay “All” of their own insurance premium. Instead they choose to divide us into recipients and payers.

      • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/15/2015 - 08:47 pm.

        I’d say you’re like a broken watch (and broken record)…

        but that would be overstating your overall rate of accuracy.

        Alluding to the broken record, we have covered this precise topic before, at which point the accurate data was presented. But seeing as this data contradicts your belief structure, as with all similar data, you pretend like you didn’t learn of its existence.

        So here are the facts.

        The two relevant sets of data are
        1) medical care inflation versus core inflation
        2) tax expenditure cost of credits for premiums in health insurance exchanges versus those for employer-sponsored health insurance

        For the first comparison, we have data going back to 1957, so we can look at medical care inflation from Eisenhower’s 2nd term through today. I have also split Obama’s presidency between pre-ACA and post-ACA.

        In ascending order:
        -0.01%: Carter
        +1.16%: Obama, post-ACA
        +1.35%: Clinton
        +1.41%: Nixon / Ford
        +1.57%: Kennedy / Johnson
        +2.04%: W Bush
        +2.07%: Ike (2nd term)
        +2.17%: Obama, pre-ACA
        +2.81%: Reagan
        +3.74%: HW Bush

        So, what that indicates is that the top 3 positions belong to Democrats and 4 of the top 5. The bottom 5 are Republicans, with the exception of the numbers Obama inherited prior to the enactment of the ACA. Chairman Reagan and his sidekick come in dead last.

        What we also see is the substantial improvement in the numbers for Obama between his pre-ACA period and post-ACA enactment period, the latter landing him behind the Democrat that Republicans mythologize as the worst president in modern history.

        As to the latter data set, the CBO addressed this topic already. Here is a comparison of the taxpayer subsidies between the long-standing one for employer-sponsored health insurance versus the ones for the ACA.

        Budgetary Effects of Selected Major Tax Expenditures, Fiscal Years 2014 to 2023
        $3.36 trillion: Employer-sponsored health insurance
        $0.92 trillion: Credits for Premiums in Health Insurance Exchanges

        To put it simply, the taxpayer subsidy of people like Mr. Appelen (generally middle to upper income) is 3.7x larger than those citizens Mr. Appelen decries (generally lower to middle income). Naturally. Eyes and motes and all that.

        1) BLS data series CUSR0000SAM and CUSR0000SA0L1E

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/16/2015 - 08:17 am.

          Subsidy and Credits vs Deductions

          I assume we have a case of different perspectives.

          To me subsidies and credits are when the US government gives citizens money to help them pay for something. Whereas deductions are where citizens pay the full bill and are not taxed on the money that was used for certain expenses.

          I would be fine if health insurance premiums were deductible for everyone. It is the idea that the US Tax Payers are paying the whole cost for a large group of citizens, while businesses and the other citizens foot the bill that makes it socialistic.

          I’ll need to study that 3.7X number closer. A person on Medicaid or ACA subsidy gets a health insurance policy worth $5,000 for free. My single peers and the company pay the $5,000 that is deductible, meaning they save ~$2,000 in taxes for a net cost of $3,000… And somehow you think the peer is receiving more from the government. I must be missing something.

          • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/16/2015 - 10:42 am.

            Out comes the red card

            socialism, n.
            a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies

            Is the medical care industry owned by the government? No. No, it is not. A person who calls the ACA “socialistic” is misusing the term in a misguided ad hominem effort.

            The rest of your comment is just your typical exercise in conflating your beliefs with reality, and ignoring the massive taxpayers subsidies you receive while lambasting the much smaller ones received by people you demonize. There is no “to me” with facts.

            1) medical care inflation post-ACA is lower under Obama than under any president except Carter
            2) taxpayer subsidies of the ACA are about 1/4 that of employer-sponsored health insurance – the latter a taxpayer subsidy you enjoy

            Mote. Eye.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/16/2015 - 02:00 pm.

              Do you like the term Social Democracy better?

              Sorry but the tax payer subsidy of medicare and some ACA policies is ~100% of the premium, since companies and citizens pay for most of their policy (ie less tax deduction) we know they recieve a smaller subsidy on a per person basis.

              Maybe you are confusing this with a total sudsidy to the system. Since the Medicare / ACA group is much smaller, I assume their total subsidy would be smaller.

              • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/16/2015 - 03:05 pm.


                Let’s take your 80/20 assumption (not actually the numbers, but close enough for this illustration).

                Take the CBO tax expenditures mentioned before for employer-based health coverage versus ACA ($3.36 trillion v $0.92 trillion over the next ten years.

                3.36 + 0.92 = 4.28

                3.36 / 4.28 = 79%
                0.92 / 4.28 = 21%

                So what you see is the subsidies are proportionate to the size of the populations getting the subsidies.

                Also, you’re confounding Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA. It would be helpful for your future assertions if you first understood the differences in the programs and how they work. Medicare is primarily older people who have paid. Medicaid generally is not. ACA generally applies to working people, with subsidy a function of income.

                So this belief that somehow beneficiaries of ACA legislation are unfairly getting more benefit than people like yourself is not founded on facts, but on bias.

                This country has a poverty rate of around 16%. It’s around 22% for children. The disability rate among working age people (ages 18-64) is 10%.

                “Welfare” as you and others commonly label it amounted to $671 billion in 2013. Medical care accounts for over 2/3 that figure, 97% of which is through the Medicaid program. “Welfare” as its commonly understood to mean (ie, general cash payments to the poor) was $18.6 billion, or less than 3% of “welfare” as defined within your ideology.

                $671 billion, while it seems large, was only 4% of US GDP in 2013. So what that means is that, as a country, we spend about 4% of our income caring for roughly 16% of our population. That’s a very large multiplier of cost to population size. The boogeyman of the “lazy free rider” is obviously a subset of that – a very small subset in actuality – so the costs to society of the mythical “lazy free rider” is at worst maybe 1%, in reality probably much less.

                It’s an interesting mindset that gets obsessed with that tiny element of inefficiency in an economic system that is grossly inefficient in so many other ways.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/16/2015 - 06:04 pm.

                  1 percent

                  .01 X $16,700,000,000,000 =$167,000,000,000

                  So are you saying that free riders are costing tax payers ~$167,000,000,000 / yr. The number seems about right to me since it looks like at the local, state and fed levels we spend more on medicare and welfare than you noted.

                  What could we do with $167 Billion / year. Is there any reason that you think we should be giving it to the free loaders rather using it elsewhere? How can we tighten the controls and work requirements, and prevent this abuse?

                  When I divide it by roughly 110 million tax paying households. It comes out to about $1,500 / household.

                  • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/16/2015 - 09:47 pm.

                    You’re missing the point

                    Systems are imperfect. There will always be slack.

                    Relative to peer developed countries, the US runs extremely lean in terms of government share of the economy, as does Minnesota compared to other states.* Part of this is because our social welfare system is very weak compared to our peer countries already.

                    This does not come without cost. If, for example, a country skimps on social safety nets, education support, and so on, and particularly has fiscal policies which encourage greater economic disparities over time, crime will be higher as will general cheating / free riding in one’s systems, both public and private. So putting the screws to people can end up increasing costs of justice systems and security, make people more fearful, which then inhibits risk-taking and growth.

                    Or when we specifically try to clamp down on “cheating”, it can often cost more than the return. A good example is trying to deal with fare jumping on light rail systems. It’s simple law of diminishing returns.

                    We also fail to acknowledge our own free riding when it comes to government benefits. This could be riding on highways that have 60% subsidies, taking a 40% subsidy for our health insurance or home mortgage interest, or putting several kids through high-quality public school for a combined half-century or so (which costs around $600-700 thousand) while paying taxes for 20-30 years at the 6th to 9th decile — which doesn’t even remotely cover that education cost. And the private sector costs considerably more than the government alternative.

                    The same applies in the private sector. People take padded lunch breaks. Take home office supplies. Do things on the Internet during working hours instead of their job. And the systems themselves can have tremendous waste, like the massive administrative overhead of private health insurance or outsized returns on capital coming from rent-seeking. It’s ubiquitous.

                    When I ballparked the 1% figure, I was being conservative. It’s probably much less than that. Instead of implying I make up numbers (which I never, ever do), perhaps you can look at the data yourself on social insurance expenditures. What would be considered “welfare” in the broader sense you speak of consists of:

                    SNAP (aka food stamps), supplemental security income

                    State and local
                    Medicaid, other public assistance medical care, family assistance, supplemental security income, general assistance, energy assistance, and other public assistance

                    The numbers from those categories equal the number I previous gave.


                    And as I said, there’s no magic “oh, look, here’s the people who are just being lazy” category. At best one can impute this number based upon knowing things like age, disability status, and so forth. But unless you’re an unrealistic person, there are plenty of real-world examples of people not being disabled and being of working age yet still needing some help. It happens to all kinds of people through no particular fault of their own.

                    At some point, the process of maturity involves accepting the imperfections of the world and getting over very narrow concepts of “fairness”. An important part of that involves being courageously honest about all the ways in which we ourselves are taking more than we are putting in, about the ups and downs of our own lives and the people we know, and awareness of our own good fortune and how fortune isn’t evenly distributed in life. Then hopefully one can move on and concentrate on how to be a better contributor and stop being obsessed at the thought some mythical person is being lazy while mythologizing that you are not.

                    (*That’s why people from Minnesota harping on supposed government bloat here and the US generally are coming from a place that is about as efficient an economy in terms of lean government compared to any other comparable developed place in the world. People have it totally backwards.)

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/17/2015 - 08:45 am.

                      Broken Windows


                      I am more of a broken window policy advocate. If we ignore fraud/laziness and reward people with ~$169 Billion in Fed, State and Local payments, the amount of fraud/laziness will increase. And if this is costing households ~$1,500 per year, it is much more significant than I thought and much worse than jumping turnstyles.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/17/2015 - 12:48 pm.

                      Wait a minute…

                      You’re attempting to equate a theory on criminality with your obsession with welfare fraud? You’re wading into Mary Franson territory now.


                      It seems to be a common meme with Republicans.


                      Too bad that this isn’t..


                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/17/2015 - 06:16 pm.


                      I was following Jay’s lead. He used turnstile jumpers as an example.

                      My point is that if society allows the “non-needy” to live off other tax payers instead of their own efforts by not investing in stopping this behavior. We will likely have more people practicing this behavior.

                      For example, Greece let tax evasion become a social norm. Therefore more people did it and their revenues eroded.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/17/2015 - 09:12 pm.

                      We’re not Greece.

                      nor are we a nation of freeloaders…sorry to burst your bubble.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/18/2015 - 10:58 pm.

                      I agree we are not a nation of free loaders. I think only about 1% to 2% of our population are free loaders and/or criminals.

                      That means the 98% to 99% of us are paying the bills for between 3 and 6 million people who rely on us to allow and support their lifestyle and behavior. The choices we make.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/19/2015 - 10:13 pm.

                      I don’t judge them,

                      since I can’t claim to know how they landed in their positions. My choice is to help them…and I have zero problem with some of my tax dollars going towards their support.

                    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/17/2015 - 01:59 pm.


                      The median income of a US household in 2013 was $52,250.

                      1% * 52,250 = $522.50 [cf. your number which is already off 3-fold]

                      The average US household in 2013 had 2.65 people.

                      $522.50 / 2.65 = $197.17

                      2013 had 365 days.

                      $197.17 / 365 = $0.54

                      So, assuming the worst-case of “free ridership” (1/4 “don’t deserve”) public assistance – and good luck proving that – amounts to “burdening” the typical American (who is a productive, hard-working person) at 54 cents per day. Two quarters and 4 pennies.

                      This is the piddling amount of money that is being harped about. 54 cents per day.

                      Apparently some people just need certain scapegoats.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/17/2015 - 06:10 pm.


                      Originally your numbers were based off USA GDP. Where did we go now?

                    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/17/2015 - 07:59 pm.

                      I agree

                      You brought it down to a household number. I corrected and contextualized your wildly inaccurate number.

                      I’m now going to go drink away my sorrows for “losing” 54 cents today.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/18/2015 - 09:26 pm.

                      The first one

                      is on me.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/16/2015 - 08:27 am.

          Interesting link

          It will be interesting to see how ACA impacts healthcare costs, I personally am unsure. These folks will try to figure it out.

          My point above is that the 80% are paying more to cover the costs of the 20%. Time will tell what happens to the total cost.

          The link made an interesting point. Healthcare costs apparently increase slower during recessions. (inflation adjusted or not ?) That may explain some of the variability in your list.

          • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/16/2015 - 09:07 am.

            In looking at these indices, it will be important to distinguish between the cost of health care, and the cost of health care insurance.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/16/2015 - 06:15 am.

        And conversely, Republicans are concerned with depriving those 20% of the American people of their health insurance. That’s why they mounted a law suit in an effort to stop it. But the fact is, health insurance is important to all Americans and all Americans are vulnerable to slipping into that 20 percent whom Democrats want to help and Republicans want to punish.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/17/2015 - 06:05 am.

    The Republicans did not ask anyone to stop providing health insurance to anyone. They just asked that it not be paid for like welfare with no work requirement.

    A decision not to pay for it, is a decision not to have it. And Republicans are favor of subsidized health care. They just can ‘t agree on how the program should be run.


    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/17/2015 - 08:22 am.


      “A decision not to pay for it, is a decision not to have it.”

      That seems like a stretch to say citizens can not have healthcare if the tax payers do not pay for it.

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/17/2015 - 11:34 am.

    That seems like a stretch to say citizens can not have healthcare if the tax payers do not pay for it

    For most people, if something goes wrong, the cost of health care is ruinous.

  19. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/17/2015 - 01:48 pm.

    Welfare at the 7th decile

    Let’s take a look at a hypothetical Minnesota household at the 7th income decile. All numbers are normalized to today’s dollars.

    The average household in that income decile makes $200K per year and pays a little over $4,500 in property taxes.

    Total state and local taxes paid by such a household amount to about $22,600 per year.

    Public elementary and secondary education account for about 22% of spending of state and local tax revenues in Minnesota. So about $5,000/yr from such a household goes to fund public K-12 in MN.

    State and local funding per student in a typical MN metro suburban school district is around $11,500. Say a 7th decile household has 3 kids and sends them to public school. So that costs $34,500 in state and local government spending per year. So the annual welfare from taxpayers to this household – just for public education alone – is $29,500. For the 13 year period of a child’s K-12 education, that comes to $383,500 in welfare.

    Let’s say the householders have about 10 average working years left after the children graduate from high school, after which they move to another state with the intention of saving on taxes.

    All state and local taxes generated by this household over a 10 year period amount to about $226,000. So even if every penny of this household’s taxes during that period went to repay their education welfare debt, they’d still have bilked hard-working taxpayers out of $158,000. Of course, the majority of their tax payments would still be going to things like roads, bridges, public safety, and so forth, so this substantially underestimates the degree of welfare this household receives.

    Who is going to whip those 7th decile free riders into shape?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/17/2015 - 06:24 pm.

      I think you are forgetting that a portion of their sizable federal taxes come back into the state. Also, since my ~$350,000 home has ~$4,500 property taxes, I think you are a bit low on that number. Finally, please remember that this couple will pay taxes for ~40 years and a child will only be in school for 18 years.

      I think I may give this some thought and go into more detail elsewhere. It is worth some thought.

      One last thought. If a family is making $50,000 and has 3 kids, gets childcare tax credit, etc. Just think how huge their debt to society is in relative terms. Or single welfare Mom with 3 kids…

      • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/17/2015 - 08:11 pm.

        That was the predicted rationalization

        Federal taxation has no relationship to this specific form of massive Minnesota welfare abuse by this example 7th deciler household. If you paid attention to what was written, you would see that the outflows and inflows all refer to state and local dollars.

        And as always, I don’t make up numbers. Those numbers come directly from the latest MN tax incidence study. It’s also fairly rudimentary to understand that averages are not the same as instances.

        The fact that others may be getting more welfare than this specific example household has nothing to do with the massive size of the welfare received by this example household. Unless of course you’re just trying to rationalize specific forms of welfare for specific kinds of people, which then indicates your concern isn’t with what and how much but who – meaning you don’t actually object to massive amounts of free rider welfare per se.

        As for paying taxes for 40 years (in theory, this isn’t the norm), the example household is one which moved from out-of-state, soon started a family, then is exiting rather soon after the graduation of the children as in the example. Paying taxes in another state has no bearing on the welfare money that these free riders ripped out of the hands of the hard-working taxpayers of Minnesota.

        Also, the typical family in that condition isn’t making 7th decile income throughout their work careers. The most likely scenario, like say coming from a mediocre small state college and working generic white collar corporate ladder climbing is most likely a process of starting at 2nd or 3rd decile, getting up to 7th during prime earning years, then tapering down in the last 10 years of work until retirement. Using the 7th decile is to indicate a peak period, not a norm.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/18/2015 - 07:53 am.

          Very Specific

          So you want to cherry pick a very specific situation and claim it means something.

          This couple by your scenario would have paid far more than they used in a different state. So what is your point?

          Of course federal taxes matter, because a lot of that money comes back to the state and the taxes are very progressive.

          The post idea you have given me to research is in what situations are people net recipients or net funders during their life?

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/17/2015 - 09:09 pm.

        The flaw in your theory

        is that many of us don’t consider that a debt to society…just the right thing to do. A debt to society is blowing a trillion on a weapons system that’s already destined for obsolescence before it rolls into active service.

        There’s your real fraud…but lets waste more time whining about childcare tax credits.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/18/2015 - 10:03 am.

          Tax Credits

          I am fine with child tax credits, I think there are bigger “actual welfare” issues.

          I don’t know enough about the “military jobs and R/D” project. We will know real soon if it paid off. They are supposed to go into production soon. It will be interesting to see how much of the new technology moves into the private sector and will help us stay a world power.

          Whereas I am not sure what long term national interest welfare supports? How does it make us a more vibrant, dominant, affluent, and successful country which helps all of us?

          • Submitted by jason myron on 07/18/2015 - 09:32 pm.

            You “think” there are larger welfare issues

            but have zero proof of any. As for taking care of the disadvantaged and how it helps our country…

            “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

            “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

            A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.
            ~Samuel Johnson, Boswell: Life of Johnson

            Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/19/2015 - 08:45 am.

              No Proof

              What are your thoughts regarding this documentary by Pelosi’s daughter?

              • Submitted by jason myron on 07/19/2015 - 10:09 pm.

                For the last time…

                a thimble full compared to the waste in the defense budget alone.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 08:37 am.

                  How to Know

                  This was one stop by Pelosi’s daughter at one welfare office in NY. How exactly do you know it is a thimble full?

                  Please remember that the USA at the Local, State and Fed levels spends spends ~$1 Trillion per year on social services, medicaid, etc.

                  • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/20/2015 - 11:15 am.

                    How Do You Know?

                    How do you know what was in the parts Ms. Pelosi decided not to include in her video? I’m assuming that she, like all filmmakers, edited her work.

                    How do you arrive at the $1 trillion figure from the numbers on your linked page?

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 01:51 pm.

                      Yes I am sure she did edit her great work. Just like she did for the folks in Mississippi. My point is that the USA tax payers spend a lot of money enabling people to free load or to minimize the negative consequences of their poor life choices.

                      People on the Left keep denying this very simple reality. We all live with the reality that there are crooks, thieves, ID fraudster, scam artists, etc and work hard to stop them from taking money from our families. Yet when it comes to many of these type of people taking from the tax payers, some people want to deny their existence.

                      Here is the rationale. It looks like ~2% of GDP welfare and ~3% healthcare.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/20/2015 - 02:29 pm.

                      No one denies their existence

                      We reject your assertion that they’re out there in great numbers. You’ve provided no proof of any of it. We however have provided numerous examples of wasteful military spending which you’ve yet to even acknowledge. But I guess that doesn’t support your firm belief that the real problem in this country are “freeloaders” and your ever present desire to judge people you don’t know for their “poor life choices.”

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 04:11 pm.

                      Proving Waste

                      How would YOU prove waste in social spending?

                      People say they need money. Bureaucrats who are paid to hand out benefits give them money.

                      The Tax Payers pays to raise and send a girl to school. The single mother who is given the funds does a poor job of raising the daughter, the daughter fails academically and ends up a single mother at 17. And the cycle begins again… Is this waste or something else?

                      Is more money going to break the cycle or encourage it?

                      These are all important concepts worthy of discussion.

                  • Submitted by jason myron on 07/20/2015 - 11:16 am.

                    Good Lord…

                    a couple of idiots ranting about “Obama bucks” is no indication of widespread fraud. The rampant waste in military spending is real and verifiable.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 01:30 pm.

                      All Time Lows

                      Please remember that military is pretty low compared to where it was over the last 100 years.

                      Not so for entitlements.

                      How would YOU prove waste in social spending?

                      People say they need money. Bureaucrats for handing out money give them money.


                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/20/2015 - 01:50 pm.

                      All Time Lows

                      The fact that military spending is at a historically low level does nothing to answer the claim that there is waste in the military budget.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/20/2015 - 02:20 pm.


                      I’ve provide many for you. We spend more on defense than the next 30 countries combined. I’ve already told you that containing your imaginary wasteful welfare spending is nothing in the grand scheme of the true boondoggle that’s bleeding this country dry…military spending. Once again, this illustrates the disconnect of what passes for conservative thought. .Wasting trillions on obsolete weapons systems designed for equally obsolete modes of combat is ok. Some poor woman buying her kids popsicles so they can be like other kids and doing it with food stamps is some sort of a national travesty.
                      Of course social spending has risen… the population of the US in 1900 was 76 million, now its upwards of 300 million. So what?

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 02:57 pm.

                      Grown Relative To

                      So the military budget continues to fall even though we are supporting many living veterans, a huge global police force, the devices they develop are highly technical and the world is about as dangerous as it has ever been. I have no doubt that there is some waste in the military budget and that we citizens should continue to push the politicians to eliminate it.

                      Now back to where we started. The cost of welfare has increased RELATIVE TO GDP. Which should pretty much normalize the numbers since both GDP and population have increased. Now are you willing to accept that there is waste in social services that need to be addressed?


                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/20/2015 - 03:22 pm.

                      Clarify, Please

                      Do your figures include only Department of Defense spending in the definition of the “military budget?”

                      “So the military budget continues to fall even though we are supporting many living veterans . . .” Veterans’ programs as military spending, even though they are administered and funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and not the Department of Defense (or are those counted as “welfare?”). Likewise, military pensions are paid by the Treasury Department.

                      “[T]he devices they develop are highly technical . . .” If they are nuclear devices, they are developed by the Department of Energy.

                      “[T]he world is about as dangerous as it has ever been.” There are a lot of weapons lying around. If they bought them from the US, the purchase probably was funded by the Department of State.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/20/2015 - 06:38 pm.


                      Please reference the source. They reference their sources.

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/20/2015 - 04:09 pm.



                      Clean up the real problem, then I’ll worry about imaginary ones that just happen to serve as convenient conservative talking points. We’re done here.

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