There’s a big chart posted across the street from the Rochester post office that compares taxpayer expenditures on the military, health, housing, and education. It shows military spending over $600 billion with the other 3 under $100 billion each.
I don’t know whose sign it is or where the numbers come from. I presume the numbers are federal expenditures for some year or average of some span of years. Here is what I found with a little digging.
The military expenditures may be close. Military spending is a federal responsibility. (I don’t know who funds the National Guard; the Feds or the states.) However, the other categories appear to be for the federal bureaucracy, not the total taxpayer cost in those categories.
In the health category, it looks like charted costs were about $85 billion. It seems fair to include spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security disability insurance, veterans medical care, veterans disability compensation, federal employee health benefits, defense health care, NIH research, and more. However, I found a source for the named items. The total spending in 2008 — the latest for which numbers may be available — was $893 billion. I believe the source is including federal outlays. We haven’t yet looked at state expenditures in these areas and we’re already 10 times the charted number.
In education, the federal Department of Education does spend billions of dollars. But schools are built and maintained, and teachers are paid by, local taxes. One source for the Department of Education spending in 2008 shows about $60 billion in the 20 biggest of 93 budget line items. None of it was for schools and teachers. That money comes from local taxes, not federal taxes. If we were to believe that taxpayers only paid about $40 billion on education (guessing that’s the figure from the chart), then public school K-12 students in the U.S. were supported by an average of $809 because, according to one source, there are about 50 million public school K-12 students in the U.S. In Minnesota, the per-student public school K-12 costs vary by district but can exceed $10,000. That’s what taxpayers cough up from property taxes (in Minnesota). Using a completely unstudied average of $8,000 per student yields taxpayer expenditures of $395 billion. Of course, private schools are supported by private money but most of that comes from taxpayers, too. At the same average, that’s another $48 billion spent on K-12 education. So, we’re at $443 billion and we only looked at K-12. The Department of Education’s over $60 billion (in 2008) plus the $443 estimated for K-12 gets us over $500 billion. And we’ve not considered state universities nor who-knows-what-else.
The bottom line is, the chart isn’t adding up nearly enough in the health, housing, and education categories.