The White House website has a really cool program that breaks down the things your federal tax dollars covered in 2011.

We had a weird year in 2011, with me finishing my thesis in the spring and getting hired into my full-time job in August, and Chalupa working at the University of New Hampshire full-time until October, when he became a part-time distance employee working from home in Indiana. In other words, it’s a little hard to estimate what our income was in 2011 without tracking down our tax receipts, so I just went ahead and pretended that we made in 2011 what we made in 2012 and used that as a baseline for estimating our family’s tax rate.

I got some pretty fascinating results.

About 50% of my total taxes went to social security and Medicare. The remaining 50% was made up of income taxes, and it went to a lot of different places.

Of the income tax, about:

  • 25% went to the military
  • 24% went to healthcare (including CHIP, food health and safety, COBRA, disease control, etc.)
  • 19% went to job and family security (unemployment insurance, certain retirement plans for federal employees and veterans, foster care and adoption support, TANF, etc.)

And under 5% went to each of the following:

  • education and job training
  • veterans’ benefits
  • natural resources, energy, and the environment
  • international affairs
  • science and space programs
  • immigration, law enforcement, and administration of justice
  • agriculture
  • community and regional development
  • response to natural disasters

A couple of interesting numbers are that my taxes included about $32 spent on TANF (food stamps), $36 on international humanitarian aid, $27 to NASA, $110 on “elementary, secondary, and vocational” education, $18 in response to natural disasters, $91 in housing assistance, $459 to Medicaid, $32 on environmental protection, and $41 on education and job training for people with disabilities.

You know how all of that makes me feel?


I mean, look at that! Look at all of the things I got to contribute to in 2011! Those small numbers add up in some really cool ways, and it makes me really patriotic to see everything that my taxes help cover.

Do I love every single thing that my taxes go toward? Of course not. But when I look at all of the things I get to contribute to–helping a family out who needs food stamps, contributing to the salary of someone in the armed forces, giving an education to someone who needs it, chipping in toward rent for someone who has a minimum wage job or who can’t work because they’re too sick, providing insurance so kids with poor parents can still go to the doctor–I get really excited.

It’s easy to have a bad attitude about taxes, especially when you see the amount that is coming out with every paycheck. I understand that there are limits to what each of us considers an appropriate amount to be taxed, too, and I think that’s reasonable. I just wish that we could be more enthusiastic and excited about the fact that we live in a country where we’ve decided that for the greater good, we’re going to chip in and take care of each other. We’re going to help out when things go wrong. We’re not going to make contributing optional.

I think that when my next paycheck gets here, I might have to look at those little numbers a bit differently.