Mapping The United States Of Welfare

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When was the last time you stopped to think about how much the government spends on welfare? Most people probably don’t think about it too much, but we bet even for those who do, they don’t know how much their government spends, much less what the money actually pays for. That’s why we created a new map showing you how much each state spends on the public dole.

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Our viz takes U.S. Census Bureau data from GoBankingRates and to create a map for the entire country. Each bubble represents a state, and the size of the bubble corresponds to the size of the public expenditure on public welfare. We then color-coded each circle according to the size of the expense. Shades of blue mean that the state spends relatively little money, but pink and red indicate a higher-than-average amount. There’s a lot that you can quickly learn by breaking mapping public welfare expenses in this war.

First off, what is public welfare? This can be a controversial topic with a lot of stereotypes, so let’s get our definitions straight. If you rely on public welfare, then you turn to the government for help with paying your basic necessities, like food, housing and healthcare. The federal government runs programs that provide these types of things, and to varying degrees, so do some states. As you can clearly see, some places are more generous than others. California is the obvious standout on the West Coast, dropping north of $100 million on public assistance. Texas is the only other Western state with over $30 million of expenditures, followed by Washington at under $12 million. There’s a significant cluster of high-spending states across the Northeast, including New York ($61.4 M) and Pennsylvania ($26.8 M). Florida stands out in the South at over $27 million, thanks in large part to its retirement communities. There’s also a cluster of states in the Upper Midwest in light pink, where there a lot of old manufacturing cities.

We should also point out the states with much smaller expenditures, stretching across the Midwest and into the deep South. The simplest explanation for the lack of huge welfare budgets in these states has to do with geography: there just aren’t a lot of big cities in places like Iowa and Alabama compared to other states. This helps explain why California and New York spend so much on welfare. They rank first and fourth as the most populous states.

Here’s a straightforward list of the top ten states with the highest expenditures on public welfare. Note the enormous difference between California and New York and the rest of the country.

  1. California - $102,842,797
  2. New York - $61,412,770
  3. Texas - $35,375,142
  4. Florida - $27,151,813
  5. Pennsylvania - $26,788,634
  6. Illinois - $20,975,644
  7. Ohio - $20,072,728
  8. Massachusetts - $18,585,384
  9. New Jersey - $17,337,353
  10. Michigan - $16,368,404

Here’s an interesting fact for you. The top ten states listed above spend more on public welfare ($346.9M) than all of the bottom forty states (plus the District of Columbia) combined ($262.7M). Regardless of how populated any particular state is, you want to pay attention to these numbers because they foreshadow future budget problems. When you consider the fact that many states run operating deficits and have enormous debt problems, you begin to wonder if some of these numbers are sustainable for the long term.

Data: Table 1.1

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