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An entitlement is a guarantee of access to something, such as to welfare benefits, based on established rights or by legislation. A "right" is itself an entitlement associated with a moral or social principle, such that an "entitlement" is a provision made in accordance with a legal framework of a society. Typically, entitlements are based on concepts of principle ("rights") which are themselves based in concepts of social equality or enfranchisement.
In a casual sense, the term "entitlement" refers to a notion or belief that one (or oneself) has a right to some particular reward or benefit—if given without deeper legal or principled cause, the term is often given with pejorative connotation (e.g. a "sense of entitlement").
In the United States, an entitlement program is a type of "government program that provides individuals with personal financial benefits (or sometimes special government-provided goods or services) to which an indefinite (but usually rather large) number of potential beneficiaries have a legal right...whenever they meet eligibility conditions that are specified by the standing law that authorizes the program. The beneficiaries of entitlement programs are normally individual citizens or residents, although sometimes organizations such as business corporations, local governments, or even political parties may have similar special 'entitlements' under certain programs." Examples of entitlement programs at the federal level in the United States include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, most Veterans' Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and agricultural price support programs.
Originally, the term "entitlement" in the United States was used to identify federal programs that, like Social Security and Medicare, got the name because workers became "entitled" to their benefits by paying into the system. In recent years the meaning has been used to refer also to benefits, like those of the food stamps program, which people become eligible to receive without paying into a system. Some federal programs are also considered entitlements even though the subscriber's "paying into the system" occurs via a means other than monetary, as in the case of those programs providing for veterans' benefits, and where the individual becomes eligible via service in the U.S. military.
In clinical psychology and psychiatry, an unrealistic, exaggerated, or rigidly held sense of entitlement may be considered a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, seen in those who "because of early frustrations...arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate."
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