Geography of Government Benefits: County-level data

The Geography of Government Benefits, an interactive mapping tool developed by the the New York Times, provides data on government benefits (i.e. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Income Support, Unemployment, and Veterans Benefits) as a percentage of personal income for every county in the U.S.

The accompanying article can be found here.

Data on transfer payments at the county and MSA levels similar to that used for this tool is available in Table CA35 on the BEA website.


  1. BEA Table 2.1 reveals that government transfer payments have increased from 8.5 percent of total personal income in 1970 to 17.6 percent in 2011. What is fueling this dramatic increase and who is receiving the benefits?

    Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Compensation, and Veterans Benefits accounted for 64 percent of government transfer payments in 2011.

    A report by the Congressional Budget Office Trends in Income Distribution Report states that in 1979, households in the bottom income quintile received more than 50 percent of transfer payments. By 2007, households in the bottom income quintile received about 35 percent of transfers. The dramatic shift reflects the growth in spending for Social Security and Medicare which are not limited to low-income households.

  2. The easy thing with this tool is the fact that you can get visual and data very quickly, I can compare Iowa County with neighboring counties in just a few minutes.

    Not sure if it will aggregate data, though, for regions comprised of multiple counties.

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