Debt-Drivers: Baby Boom, Recession

Photograph by Sandy Huffaker/Corbis

Joblessness and the accompanying loss of health benefits drove an additional 3.7 million people into the Medicaid program in 2009, the largest single-year increase since the early days of the government insurance plan, according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

There’s a lot of election-year finger-pointing over blame for the explosion of U.S. debt.

It misses some of the biggest culprits: The aging of the Baby Boom generation and sluggish recovery from the deepest recession since the 1930s.

The BGOV Barometer shows that 77 percent of the growth in federal budget deficits over the past three years can be traced to a recession-driven drop in tax revenue, coupled with spending increases required by law to assist the poor and elderly. Another 11 percent is the result of increased outlays for the Pentagon and veterans’ services.

The breakdown illustrates how little of the deficit is affected by annual spending decisions by Congress and the administration. Social Security and the recession’s effect on tax collections and safety-net programs added more red ink during the last three years than all other government programs combined.

See the full story on the debt-drivers at


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