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Majority in U.S. Aided by Programs That Are Threatened With Cuts

More Americans who identified themselves as conservative received government benefits than those who said they are moderate or liberal, a survey shows.

The Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project said in the survey released today that 55 percent of people have received Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamp, unemployment insurance or cash benefit payments from taxpayers.

The report underscores the depth and reach of government entitlement programs, with 60 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans claiming benefits. Fifty-seven percent of respondents getting help described themselves as conservative, while 53 percent said they were moderate or liberal.

That shows the political minefield being navigated in Washington, where lawmakers must reach a deficit-reduction agreement before more than $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases start to kick in next year.

“It cuts pretty evenly across partisan and ideological divides,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president at the Washington-based research group and co-author of the study. “These programs touch the lives of millions of Americans.”

The issue of government programs was at the forefront of the November election, with Republicans calling for cuts in programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. The Pew survey found 59 percent of voters who supported President Barack Obama had received government benefits. Fifty-three percent of those who backed Republican Mitt Romney gained from one of the entitlement programs.

Jobless Aid

Unemployment benefits were the most commonly received benefit, with 27 percent of survey respondents saying they’ve been helped by the program. Twenty-six percent of people said they’ve received Social Security old-age, disability or survivor benefits. Another 22 percent have been helped by Medicare, the federal health-insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

Eighteen percent have been helped by food stamps, known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Eleven percent received health care through Medicaid, the joint federal-state insurance program for the poor. Eight percent reported receiving cash welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Elderly Recipients

The Pew study found people 65 years and older were most likely to have received help from one of the six entitlement programs, because of the near-universal eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits, and from Medicare.

Researchers said 97 percent of elderly Americans have participated in one of the six programs. Fifty-nine percent of people between the ages of 50 and 64, and 45 percent of Americans between 30 and 49 received help from one of the six programs. One-third of people between 18 and 29 years old got benefits, the study said.

Blacks were most likely to participate in one of the entitlement programs, the survey said. Sixty-four percent of blacks, 56 percent of whites and half of Hispanics surveyed said they’d received one of the federal benefits.

Sixty-one percent of women received help from one of the programs, while 49 percent of men said they’d gotten benefits. Rural residents were more likely to get help, with 62 percent saying they’d participated in one of the programs. Fifty-four percent of urban Americans said they got assistance.

Thirty-two percent of Americans surveyed said they had received help from more than one of the six federal programs.

The Pew survey of 2,511 adults was conducted by telephone from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Bass in New York at fbass1@bloomberg.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flynn McRoberts in Chicago at fmcroberts1@bloomberg.net;Mark McQuillan in Washington at 202- mmcquillan@bloomberg.net.

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