What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives. An individual typically had received two direct social benefits in the form of checks, goods or services paid for by government, like Social Security or unemployment insurance. Most had also benefited from three policies in which government’s role was “submerged,” meaning that it was channeled through the tax code or private organizations, like the home mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free status of the employer contribution to employees’ health insurance.
Mettler and Sides also note that "submerged policies" like the mortgage-interest deduction or student loans are more likely to benefit higher-income families: "Low-income people have used more of the direct policies than have the affluent: the average household with income under $10,000 per year used four of them, compared to only one by the households at $150,000 and above. But the proportions were reversed in the case of the submerged policies: wealthy families had typically used three of them, and the poor just one."