Who knew Mitt Romney’s number—that infamous 47 percent—would turn out to be a conservative estimate?

A new Pew Research Center poll reveals a majority of us have received benefits from the “six best-known federal entitlement programs.” And the numbers actually break pretty close to even along party lines with 59 percent of Obama voters and 53 percent of Romney supporters collecting government benefits, according to the study.

By the way, the programs we’re talking about here are, of course:

  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Food stamps
  • Welfare
  • Unemployment

Specifically, we’re talking about 55 percent of Americans who have received at least one of the benefits, with another 16 percent who knows someone in their household who has. So more than 70 percent of us have been touched by federal benefits, entitlements or whatever you want to call them.

(Where did the word entitlement come from anyway? How is something an entitlement when I’ve been paying toward it myself, such as the case with Social Security and Medicare? And how can we even talk about taking those things away without refunding that money proportionally back to taxpayers? I know I’m digressing here a little bit, but it’s like the feds borrowing against my 401(k) for several years—which I put there to begin with—before finally telling me that, yeah, they’re going to have to keep it….)

Anyway, where was I? A few other numbers stand out while sifting through the eggheads’ charts and graphs, some of which fly in the face of conventional wisdom (or what some might call stereotypes) when it comes to the demographics behind the beneficiaries.

Let me quote Pew directly here: “The beneficiaries of entitlements span the social, political and economic spectrum. But some group differences do emerge. Women are more likely than men to have received an entitlement benefit (61 percent vs. 49 percent). Blacks (64 percent) are somewhat more likely than whites (56 percent) or Hispanics (50 percent) to have gotten federal help of this kind.

“Rural residents also have disproportionately benefited from these entitlements (62 percent), compared with urban (54 percent) or suburban (53 percent) dwellers.”

What I find troubling is how many of us find ourselves needing federal help earlier in our lives, with roughly a third of those between 18 and 29 having received some kind of federal aid. Not the best testament of our society when so many need help so young.

We need a federal government (or something) to help those in need. And I’m not alone there, since more than 60 percent of the people Pew surveyed echo that sentiment. (And is there any more fundamental tenet for us as a so-called Christian nation than to help what Christ called, “the least among you?”)

Where we all fall down (and apart) is what form that help should take, because once the bean counters at Pew started discussing individual programs, the numbers started skewing differently.

It’s an interesting snapshot of us as a society, I think that somehow slipped under the radar. Maybe it was the holidays? But when else are we supposed to think about helping someone else?