How much does the US government spend on global development? (And 4 other things you might not know)

Few would disagree that the aim of US foreign assistance to developing countries must be to help people help themselves. But did you know…?

1)   Foreign assistance is a bargain.

For the last few years, the US devoted just 0.7 percent of the federal budget to poverty-focused foreign assistance. In FY2014, the US government spent $23.4 billion on it around the world. Cutting foreign aid will not solve our nation’s budget problems, but it will impact the efforts of local leaders around the world making positive changes in their nations and neighborhoods.

2)   The vast majority of Americans support foreign assistance.

Would you agree that the US has “a moral responsibility to work to reduce hunger and severe poverty in poor countries”? If so, then you agree with eighty-one percent of the US public that hold this view. Surveys show that Americans also believe that it is in rich countries’ own interest to help poor countries develop.

3)   Americans greatly overestimate how much the US spends on foreign assistance. 

According to surveys, Americans on average think the US spends as much as 30 percent of the federal bud­get on foreign aid - more than on Social Security or Medicare – which is much different than the 0.7 percent reality.

4)   Americans spend more on candy, lawn care, and soft drinks than the US government spends on poverty-reducing foreign assistance.

The US government spends about $80 per taxpayer on development aid. Compare that to what Americans spend: $101 per person on candy, the $126 per person on lawn care, and $204 per person on soft drinks.

Need we say more?

5) When you compare US foreign assistance to other industrialized nations, the US ranks low.

Even though the US is the largest donor of official development assistance in absolute dollars, it spent about 0.19 percent of its gross national income on it in 2012. That puts the US in 19th place behind most industrialized nations. Britain, for example, contributed 0.56 percent of its gross national income in 2012 – more than twice the US percentage.


Figures are taken from Oxfam’s newly-released third edition of the quick and easy guide, F..., which dispels the common myths around foreign aid to developing countries and answers some fundamental questions as to why the US provides it and how it can be more effective.

Views: 421

Tags: US foreign aid, US foreign policy, international development


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Comment by Luc Lapointe on April 2, 2014 at 2:02pm

Hi Michael,

I am sure Jennifer will respond but the only thing you could find is some big numbers that the Center for Global Prosperity publishes. Other than that....InterAction and Foundation Center but again the problem is double and triple count since lots of the Foreign Aid money flows through US NGOS - so the same money could be reported many times by different organizations.

When it comes to poverty-focused -- I'd say that building a road fits in that category as well as giving a big tip at the's in the eye of the person writing the report for the organization that needs to demonstrate impact!

Luc Lapointe

Comment by Michael Donahue on April 2, 2014 at 1:55pm

This is great stuff. . . I wonder two things at this moment.  is there a figure for US based Not for Profits, that work on issues related to this? I would be looking for direct assistance as well as indirect  assistance numbers. My guess is that anyone looking to convince the American public our tax dollars should not go here will use those numbers.  Also, as I see the words poverty-focused, are their other distinctions that someone could relate to these numbers. 

Comment by Luc Lapointe on April 2, 2014 at 1:53pm

Dear Jennifer,

You know what's really missing in this picture...and what would give it more value? It's the individual participation of Americans (in this case) corporations, foundations, travelers, philanthropist, and others. The success of "aid" is made possible by human efforts...not by financial investment. Money alone does nothing to really make the case for "foreign aid policies.

Hopefully soon...(what we are working on) -- we will be able to paint a full image of how US Foreign Aid and individual activities actually generated impact by complementing local efforts. Got to love info-graphic!

Ciao....desde Cali Colombia

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