Dependence on federal government assistance grew 8.1 percent last year, according to The Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Dependence. The index is a weighted measure of the growth of federal government assistance spending in five areas: housing, health care, retirement, higher education, and rural and agricultural services. The index is up 149 percent since 1989. The autopilot growth of entitlements (Medicare and Social Security) accounts for some of the growth in the Index, but policy changes have mattered, too. In the past few years, the federal government started bailing out bad mortgages, took over the operations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, expanded Medicare to cover prescription drugs, and overturned a key element of welfare reform by rewarding state welfare agencies for expanding their welfare rolls.
According to the Index, 67.1 million people now receive some form of government assistance in the five areas of housing, health care, retirement, higher education, and rural and agricultural services. That is the highest level ever, while the percentage of the population receiving this assistance is 21.8 percent, up sharply in recent years and close to the 1994 high of 23.1 percent. The amount of assistance received per person in these programs now exceeds the per capita disposable income in the