President Trump loves to talk about cutting U.S. foreign aid, even if he doesn’t always follow through. What’s most often missed in media coverage about this debate is where American dollars are going, and the issues U.S. expenditures are meant to fix.
Our latest visualization lays out a nice snapshot, revealing the handful of countries with most at stake in Trump’s threats to overseas aid.
We compiled the data for our visual from USAID, the agency responsible for U.S. assistance to countries around the world. We plotted the total allocation of foreign aid into a stacked bubble chart where the size of each bubble corresponds to the amount of money the U.S. sends. We added each country’s flag and its geographic boundary. We then divided the bubbles into four income groups, which the World Bank defines as gross national income (GNI) per capita. And finally, we added an additional layer in the color of each bubble’s outline representing the single biggest sector that USAID is supporting. The result is a fascinating snapshot of American assistance around the world.
Top 10 Countries Recieving the Most Aid from USA
1. Afghanistan: $5.7B
2. Iraq: $3.7B
3. Israel: $3.2B
4. Jordan: $1.5B
5. Egypt: $1.5B
6. Ethiopia: $1.1B
7. Kenya: $1B
8. South Sudan: $924M
9. Syria: $891M
10. Nigeria: $852M
We previously wrote about foreign aid 2 years ago, and it turns out not much has changed. American aid is not evenly distributed. There are a handful of countries in each income group receiving the bulk of the money. Afghanistan ($5.7B) and Iraq ($3.7B) stand out for obvious reasons given the American military engagements in those countries. 30 countries account for 82% of all USAID expenditures, and 121 receive less than $100M each. The budget is therefore top-heavy and biased toward a select number of places.
Another interesting angle to consider is the ultimate purpose of American aid by income group. For example, there are a number of countries in the low income group receiving aid for HIV/AIDS prevention and emergency responses. Among the upper middle income countries, however, government and civil society and conflict, peace and security both feature prominently. This pattern suggests that American aid correlates with where each country is in its economic development.
That being said, high income countries tend not to be major recipients of American foreign aid with the sole exception of Israel ($3.2B). The next closest country in the high income group is Austria at $38.4M. If you add up all the foreign aid that high income countries receive, Israel alone receives over 94%. That’s almost entirely because of the longstanding military alliance between the U.S. and Israel, which was itself strengthened under Trump.
At first glance, it seems like we’re talking about a lot of money. Billions of dollars are flowing from the U.S. to other countries for conflict reduction, emergency relief and HIV/AIDS prevention. But keep in mind the U.S. government maintains an annual budget deficit of over $1 trillion. USAID totals only $36.8B, a tiny fraction of the overall budget. In reality, Americans get substantial goodwill and strategic benefits for a relatively low expenditure, all things considered.