Yes, that title puts not too fine a point on it. But I stand by that claim. I stand by it in the cross-section. I stand by it over time. I stand by it with a fox…I stand by it in a box…whoops…ignore that last bit.
As my CBPP colleague Danilo Trisi shows in a post based on new Census Bureau data out today (see figure below):
Safety net programs cut the poverty rate nearly in half in 2013, our analysis of Census data released today finds, lifting 39 million people — including more than 8 million children — out of poverty. The data highlight the effectiveness of cash assistance such as Social Security, non-cash benefits such as rent subsidies and SNAP (formerly food stamps), and tax credits for working families like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). They also rebut claims, based on poverty statistics that omit non-cash and tax-based safety net programs, that these programs do little to reduce poverty.
They do indeed. The we-lost-the-war ideologues typically depend on the Census measure that leaves out precisely the anti-poverty measures we’ve ramped up in recent decades. Back in the pre-war-on-poverty early 1960s, the official rate stood at around 20%; now it’s around 15%. So even by the inadequate official metric, there’s been a decline in the rate. And ftr, such sweeping comparisons over so many years ignore so many changing dynamics in economics, families, and policies that they’re not very meaningful anyway.
That said, if you made the correct comparison–one that includes the anti-poverty measures left out of the official measure–you’d find that poverty fell from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012.
That’s still way too much poverty in such a rich country, no question. As these new data show, the safety net helps a lot but it cannot take the place of robust economic opportunity, human capital development, and the upward mobility that’s lacking for far too many low-income families.
But to ignore findings of the type Danilo posts today is to willfully mislead. So the next time you hear someone spout the meme in the title–e.g., Sen. Hatch or Rep. Ryan–recognize that they do not deserve your or anyone else’s attention on this issue.