A record 49 percent of Americans live in a household where someone receives at least one type of government check, according to the Census Bureau. That's up from 46 percent in 1975 and 18 percent in 1940.
In fact, 63 percent of all federal spending this year will consist of checks written to individuals for which the government receives currently no services, the White House budget office estimates.
Yes, many were "earned" -- see military pensions. Nonetheless, those figures will climb. The 75 million baby boomers have only begun to retire.
"The more households that are benefiting from the programs, the more difficult it is to rein in their costs," said Bob Bixby, head of the Concord Coalition, a Virginia-based group that promotes balanced budgets.
The increasing reliance on the federal "safety net" comes as a congressional supercommittee faces mounting pressure to find $1.5 trillion in savings. But Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who sits on the supercommittee, says the swelling number of beneficiaries is "very distressing" because it means much of the population is "hooked on government" and will oppose any cuts.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, complains that opinion polls show the public wants neither benefits cut nor higher taxes -- except on "the rich," of course, by which each person polled means "someone richer than I am."
Are we surprised?
A Bloomberg News-Washington Post poll earlier this month found more than four-fifths of Americans opposed reducing Social Security or Medicare benefits, and a similar percentage said they didn't want taxes increased on the middle class either.
"None of this adds up," says Sen. Conrad.
Alexander Fraser Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee), a Scottish born lawyer and writer, is often credited with having said, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury."
He may have been on to something.