Government Benefits Tapped By Nearly Half Of Americans

The U.S. government is lending a hand to a record number of Americans.

During the second quarter of 2010, nearly half -- or 48.6 percent -- of Americans lived in a household using some kind of government benefit, according to Census data cited by the Wall Street Journal. All together, the share of Americans using social security, unemployment insurance and other benefit programs rose to a record high.

As the candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination consider how to best cut into the federal deficit, some government benefit programs have come under fire. All of the candidates have proposed reforming social security in some form with some even referring to the program as a "Ponzi scheme." But curbing benefits may be a hard sell as elevated levels of unemployment and a generally sour economy push more Americans to rely on a safety net in some form.

One thing is certain: the country won't return to pre-recession life for some time. In total, only 7 percent of Americans that lost their jobs during the recession have attained their previous financial position, according to a study from Rutgers University released last month. In addition, nearly half of Americans said in a November survey that they lack basic economic security.

But without government benefits, the situation could have been even worse. The Center on Budget on Policy Priorities found in a November analysis that the poverty rate would have nearly doubled if not for government aid. Still, some types of government benefits are in danger of being cut. Congress did it's part to increase insecurity when it nearly halted extended unemployment insurance for almost two million Americans earlier this month. At the last minute Congress struck a deal postponing any cutoff until March.

Even if the benefits stay in place, they don't provide enough for most recipients to live. Sixty-Six percent of Americans using unemployment benefits said in a New York Times/CBS poll in October that they don't cover basic needs like food and shelter.