This graphic is doing the circuit on Facebook. Is the pie chart an accurate depiction of US government spending?

“Look closely at this chart of federal spending.” (Pie chart with Military spending at 57%, the other categories at less than 7%. Food & Agriculture is an orange slice with spending at just one percent.) “Somewhere within the tiny orange sliver at the bottom is the food stamp program that Republicans blame for our budget deficit. And so ends today's lesson in Republican logic.”

Look closely at this chart of federal spending.

Military 57%
Education 6%
Government 6%
Veteran's Benefits 6%
Housing & community 5%
Health 5%
International affairs 3%
Energy & Environment 3%
Science 3%
Transportation 3%
Labor 2%
Food & agriculture 1%

Somewhere within the tiny orange sliver at the bottom is the food stamp program that Republicans blame for our budget deficit.
And so ends today's lesson in Republican logic.


3 Answers 3


The graphic is the FY2014 requested discretionary spending, which is only a small part of the total budget as explained in the article President Obama Proposes 2014 Budget. This article specifically contains and explains the exact pie chart in the OP.

Contrary to the text below the pie chart, the food stamp program is not part of discretionary spending, it is part of mandatory spending, so it is not on the pie chart at all.

See Mandatory Spending Since 1962 which is a US Senate document:

Other mandatory spending programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), unemployment insurance, some veterans’ benefits, federal employee retirement and disability, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the current name for the food stamp program.

SNAP benefits cost $74.1 billion in fiscal year 2014

The total budget actual spending for 2014 was $3.506 trillion

So the SNAP program was 2.1% of total spending.


First off, Republicans don't actually blame the government deficit on SNAP (food stamps.)

That aside, no, the representation of U.S. government expenditures in the pie chart in question is not even remotely accurate. As DavePhD accurately pointed out in his answer, the chart only shows what is termed "discretionary spending" in the federal budget, which doesn't even include food stamps (or almost any of the other social entitlement programs spending.)

Here is what federal expenditures actually look like:

FY2015 Federal Spending

Federal Expenditures for FY2015. Source: National Priorities Project, which sources from OMB (the White House Office of Management and Budget.)

The image in the question was also reviewed by Politifact and, due to its presentation of discretionary spending as if it were the total of federal spending, was rated false.

Additionally, the question asks about "U.S. government spending." When discussing government spending in the U.S., it's important to remember that federal spending is itself only a piece of the pie. The chart above and the chart in the question show only federal spending. Nearly all military spending is federal, however, state and local governments account for a large percentage of government spending in the U.S. in other sectors. Education, for example, is typically funded primarily by state and local governments. The same is true for road construction and maintenance.

The chart above shows the $3.7 trillion dollars of federal expenditures in fiscal year 2015. However, total federal + state + local government spending in the U.S. for that fiscal year is estimated to be about $6.4 trillion, according to usgovernmentspending.com. Official data from the government for these figures is not yet available, but they're in line with what would be expected based on prior year data, which is available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

When all U.S. government spending is included (state + federal + local,) education and transportation will be much larger shares of spending than when only federal spending is considered. Conversely, the share of military spending will only be about 60% of its share of federal expenditures, since nearly all military spending is from the federal government.

While Fiscal Year 2015 data is not yet available, here is a breakdown of the major spending categories for state and local government spending from the Fiscal Year 2014 data listed by the Census Bureau (XLS):

U.S. State and Local Spending, FY2014
U.S. State and Local Government Spending, FY 2014, Own Work
Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau (XLS)

Overall U.S. Governmental Spending, Fiscal Year 2014

During FY 2014, state and local governments received $602 billion from the federal government in various grants, according to the Census link cited above. Unfortunately, the Census data does not break this down by category, so constructing a pie chart showing a breakdown for both federal and state and local spending by category isn't possible from this data. However, the following chart shows how federal spending categories looked as a percentage of overall governmental spending in the U.S. for Fiscal Year 2014:

Total U.S. Governmental Spending, FY14
Total U.S. Governmental Spending, FY 2014, Own Work
Data Sources: OMB for federal data (XLS) and U.S. Census Bureau for state and local (XLS)

The "State and Local Spending Minus Federal Grants" portion of the pie chart shows all spending from state and local governments minus the $602 billion of that which was funded by grants from the federal government. This subtraction is necessary in order to construct an accurate pie chart, since that $602 billion would otherwise be counted twice.


Politifact has determined it to be false, noting that this chart shows only discretionary spending:

If we look at all of federal spending, the picture changes:

  • The "military" share, including spending on homeland security, shrinks from 57 percent to 16 percent.

  • The "health" share zooms from 5 percent to 26 percent, once expenditures on Medicare and Medicaid are counted.

  • Social Security -- a category not even included in the pie chart now circulating on social media feeds -- rises from 0 percent to 25 percent.

  • Food and agriculture quadruples from 1 percent to 4 percent due to the inclusion of food stamps, a mandatory program, and agricultural income and price supports.

Calculating it this way severely undercuts the graphic’s message. Rather than the federal budget being dominated by the military, the budget is actually dominated by spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact. the ratio of military spending to food and agriculture spending in the full budget is 4-to-1, rather than 57-to-1.

  • 7
    I quoted some material for you to make this not a link-only answer. You should probably consider summarizing information from the link instead, but I didn't want to write your content for you. You also may want to link to the DavePhD answer, which notes that the original graph did not include food stamps at all.
    – Brythan
    Jan 1, 2017 at 23:50
  • 9
    This should really be CW as the OP has written very little of it
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 2, 2017 at 15:32
  • 2
    It seems likewise dishonest to include social security and medicare spending when they are, at least nominally, funded by their own separate taxation. Jan 3, 2017 at 0:25
  • Also remember that links go dead @spacefaced.... Jan 3, 2017 at 12:05
  • This is good stuph (+1). If only it had a coresponding craphic, so that we could visually comapre them
    – Mawg
    Jan 3, 2017 at 16:53

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