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Last Year, You Spent Over A Month’s Rent On Pentagon Contractors

Above photo: Illustration by Sarah Gertler / Institute for Policy Studies.

A dollar by dollar look at how our taxes enrich military contractors.

At the expense of things that actually make us secure.

Ever wonder where your taxes go? Each year, the Institute for Policy Studies releases a tax receipt so you can find out.

One item always stands out: the Pentagon — and the contractors who profit off it.

In 2023, the average taxpayer spent $2,974 on the Pentagon. Of that, just $705 went to salaries for the troops, who often have to rely on programs like food stamps. A much larger sum — $1,748 — went to corporate Pentagon contractors. That’s more than the average American’s monthly rent, $1,372.

From Lockheed Martin (the top federal contractor and longtime weapons maker) to SpaceX (which Elon Musk runs when he’s not spewing racist and anti-semitic tropes), these corporations don’t need your support. And they aren’t operating with your well-being in mind.

Enriching them comes at the cost of better health care, education, clean air and water, disaster management, and more. Here are just five examples from the average tax bill.

1. Pentagon contractors ($1,759) vs. the Child Tax Credit ($110).

In 2024, the Pentagon budget is set to increase by $27 billion, bringing the department’s budget to about $825 billion. About half of that will go to for-profit contractors.

Meanwhile, an expansion of the Child Tax Credit during the pandemic succeeded in cutting the child poverty rate almost in half — progress that was almost immediately reversed when the expansion expired in late 2021.

Lifting kids out of poverty can have lifelong effects on their health, education, and employment. Isn’t that worth more than a tiny fraction of our spending on military contracts?

2. Lockheed Martin ($249) vs. renewable energy ($11). 

Lockheed Martin is perhaps best-known as the maker of the always over-budget, never-quite-ready F-35 jet fighter, which has spontaneously caught fire three separate times. Despite claims that programs like this are job creators, Lockheed recently made moves to cut jobs.

Meanwhile, despite the necessity of addressing climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, the average taxpayer’s contribution to renewable energy programs tops out at just $11.

3. Boeing ($87) vs. the Federal Aviation Administration ($23).

From commercial flights that crashed to others that fell apart in midair, Boeing’s commercial safety record lately has been abysmal. Yet the company is also among the top five Pentagon contractors. Among other military aircraft, it’s the maker of the V-22 Osprey that crashed and killed eight service members in November.

The FAA, of course, is the understaffed, underfunded government regulator responsible for the safety of commercial flights. Maybe we should spend more on regulating companies like Boeing than subsidizing them?

4. Federal prisons ($32.29) vs. substance use and mental health programs ($31.69).

With about 2 million people incarcerated nationally, about one in three Americans will have an immediate family member who has been in prison or jail. Your federal income tax dollars support this system, which often treats substance use and mental health challenges as issues best confined to a prison cell.

By contrast, help for substance use disorder or mental health issues can still be profoundly hard to get, as any affected person or family member will tell you. What if we spent more on treating these health conditions than punishing them?

5. Foreign militaries ($112) vs. wildfire management ($14).

From Afghanistan and Iraq to Ukraine and now Gaza, it feels like the U.S. is always either starting a war, fighting a war, or subsidizing a war. These wars are increasingly unpopular — and they’re not making us any safer.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans have experienced the direct or indirect effects of wildfire in recent years. These disasters cost upward of $394 billion each year. Isn’t that threat worth addressing?

Pentagon contractors want us to think we need what they’re selling, but wrong-headed priorities like these mean we’re actually worse off. Spread the word: every taxpayer deserves better.

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