What do taxes pay for?


Quick Answer

Taxes pay for a variety of public goods and services that include enforcement of civil order, construction of public infrastructure and reduction of government debt obligations. In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service collected about $2.8 trillion in taxes.

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Full Answer

In 2013, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion. Most of the money was spent on social security, defense and the three health insurance programs: Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and Medicare. The federal government spent 24 percent or $814 billion on social security. A significant proportion of this money went to retirees, disabled workers or their dependents, while 22 percent of the money, equivalent to $772 billion, was spent on the three federal medical insurance programs. Nineteen percent, the equivalent of $643 billion, was spent on national defense.

Part of this money went to international security assistance, an item that includes support for operations in Afghanistan. Twelve percent of the money, equal to $398 billion, was spent on safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, cash payments for needy families and energy bills for the elderly. Six percent of the spending or $221 billion was used to retire interest accruing on the national debt. The remainder was spent on everything from transport infrastructure to science and medical research, explains the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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