Fiscal Cliff Breakdown: How the Government Spends Your Precious Tax Dollars

Alden Wicker

federal tax dollarsThe debate has been heating up over the fiscal cliff–and not just in Congress.

Last week, we ran a personal opinion piece from a couple that felt they were being unfairly taxed.

It spawned a couple hundred comments, many of which questioned the wisdom of raising taxes when the government could cut wasteful spending instead.

What no one could agree on is what counts as wasteful spending. Is military spending worth it? How about programs that benefit the poor? Spending on infrastructure, like roads and bridges?

This got us to thinking: What does the government actually spend on, and how much? If we, hypothetically, could choose something to cut completely out of the federal budget, how much would the average family save?

So we dug into the numbers to help you understand just how federal spending affects you–and to report on what would happen if automatic cuts (called sequestration) go into effect if the fiscal cliff isn’t resolved. Be prepared to be mystified, mollified and, sometimes, pretty miffed.

Where do our tax dollars go?


Let’s talk about these taxes in terms of the hypothetical family, the Medians–you know, the family whose household income is $52,762, and who pays an 11.1% federal tax rate, which comes out to $5,856 per year

How much did the Medians pay to fund each of these federal spending programs? We’ll tell you.

  • Libsta4

    I am a firm believer that your spending should, and usually does, match your values.  Although I am happy to see that the government values healthcare and support for retirees, it saddens me that as a country we value war so much higher than education.  It’s not even close. 

    I think that there is no doubt that we need to restructure the health care system to make it more efficient and cheaper.  I also think we absolutely need to raise the age for collecting Social Security benefits.  I do believe that in my lifetime SS will disappear. 

    • Mbaker

      Yeah, I’m sure that the difference in spending has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that airplanes, tanks, etc. cost more than textbooks.

    • Michael

      You shouldn’t see it as putting value on war but rather safety.  We value health more than we value safety and we value safety more than we value education.

  • Tallywg

    This article is absolutely misleading! Social Security and Medicare are not a tax! The working class pays into both these, as I did for 40+ years. Articles like these, and our stupid congress, misrepresents each of these as entitlements, which they are not. And both would be well funded had not our congress borrowed funds for stupid decisions as paying for wars like the Vietnam war! I (and most others) paid in much more than I’ll ever realize from either, and will receive much less return on either than I would have had, had I invested the same amount in a good index fund! Shame on Learnvest for being another source for mis-information!

  • Zamzow

    I would have liked to have seen how much of this spending is borrowed….even though the Medians make $52k or so..the spending vastly outstrips the income. 
    That is the real tragedy of where the government allocates its money – it doesn’t live within its means, a practice Learnvest does not advocate!!

  • CrankyFranky

    wow – ten times as much on defense spending as on education !

    There’s a plan – why bother educating people to build a better future when you can just build more efficient ways to kill people …