Replace ‘entitlements’ with ‘earned benefits’

In a comment to an earlier post, commenter sailor1031 raised a point that has also been bugging me but which I had done nothing about, and that is the use of the word ‘entitlements’ to cover Social Security and Medicare.

The oligarchy loves the word entitlement because it has largely negative connotations. While one use of the word is of something that is rightly due to a person, that the person is thus entitled to, more often the word is used in the context of people who ‘have a sense of entitlement’, by which we mean that they feel that the world owes them something that they have not earned and that they are living off the work of others. It is precisely this kind of thinking that lay behind Mitt Romney’s infamous pre-election 47% comments and his and Bill O’Reilly’s equally infamous post-election comments that the people who voted to re-elect president Obama did so because he gave them ‘gifts’ and promised them even more. They see people who get these benefits as moochers.

But as sailor1031 pointed out, Social Security and Medicare are things that people have contributed to all their working lives as part of the social compact that when they can no longer work, it will be there so that they can live the twilight of their lives in dignity. While one can debate the actuarial issues of whether they get more less than they put in, there is no question that it is largely a debt that society is repaying to its elderly, not an act of charity.

I think a much better term than ‘entitlements’ would be ‘earned benefits’ and that is what I will use in the future unless someone comes up with something even better.


  1. Hein Moritz says

    I agree that “entitlement” is used in its most negative connotation. Would be nice for all to stop using the term.

  2. jpmeyer says

    The UPenn Language Log ( had a fascinating article recently about the history of the word “entitlement” and how it went from meaning “something that you earned” (generally a reward from the king for services rendered to him) to “something that you didn’t earn” during the 1960s.

  3. davenash says

    It is especially galling that earned benefits might be cut to pay for tax breaks on unearned income like capital gains.

  4. richardrobinson says

    When I read the title of this post, I thought it was going to be about replacing entitlements with private accounts, so I’m not sure this will have the connotation you intend. Though I very much agree with your point.

    Another word worth taking back is “agenda”. You can’t say it anymore with out someone reading in an implied “secret and nefarious”. By avoiding the word, people essentially deny themselves the right to promote their personal interests.

  5. says

    Mano, you are right on track! “Earned Benefits” is one of the recommended frames we’re calling for at The Winning Words Project.

    And guess what? Even Harry Reid is now using it to describe these vital programs. Check it out — see his Jan. 11, 2013 letter to President Obama, regarding the threat the Republicans are posing on these programs, where he says:

    It would be wrong to slash earned benefits for seniors and middle class families, while allowing corporations, millionaires, and billionaires to continue to exploit wasteful tax loopholes.

    So great job, and carry on with your mad re-framing skilz!

    Five Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Say Again

    Harry Reid letter to President Obama

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *