Like most people who went into journalism in those halcyon days, I started out on the left.

We New Orleans scribblers loved then-Mayor Moon Landrieu, father of Senator Mary Landrieu, mostly because, in addition to being a colorful personality, Landrieu had a talent for getting federal money for the city. This was unquestionably a Good Thing.

Then I went to cover that press conference. It hit me that both sides (it’s too long ago to go into) were really haggling about who was going to benefit more from a federal housing program. I had an epiphany: We are becoming a nation with two classes, the earners and the confiscators. It was a blinding insight for me, and pretty soon I put down my Marcuse and picked up Hayek. I began to worry that one day the dependent class would become as large as the earning class.

That was quite a long time ago, but the insight of that day stuck with me and is the core of my political philosophy such as it is. Alas, I was right. A report today states that the government is now giving out in benefits more than it is taking in taxes:

U.S. households are now getting more in cash handouts from the government than they are paying in taxes for the first time since the Great Depression.

Households received $2.3 trillion in some kind of government support in 2010. That includes expanded unemployment benefits, as well as payments for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and stimulus spending, among other things.

But that’s more than the $2.2 trillion households paid in taxes, an amount that has slumped largely due to the recession, according to an analysis by the Fiscal Times.

Also, an estimated 59% of the 308.7 million Americans in this country get at least one federal benefit, according to the Census Bureau, based on 2009 data. An estimated 46.5 million get Social Security; 42.6 million get Medicare; 42.4 million get Medicaid; 36.1 million get food stamps; 12.4 million get housing subsidies; and 3.2 million get Veterans’ benefits. 

And the handouts from the government have been growing. Government cash handouts account for a whopping 79% of household growth since 2007, even as household tax payments–for things like the income and payroll tax, among other taxes–have fallen by $312 billion.

That is a tough feeding trough to take away from voters.

No kidding.

A lot of people must now be having that same epiphany I had that long ago afternoon in New Orleans.