As I note over at the NYT’s Economix blog:
Let’s get this straight: the poor and their advocates were not the ones who tanked the economy. Nor should they be on the defensive when the safety net expands to offset some of the damage. The right question at such times is thus not why the SNAP rolls are so high. It’s whether SNAP, unemployment insurance, T.A.N.F. et al are expanding adequately to meet the needs of the poor.
A few additional deets:
–For figure 2, I used a National Academy of the Science (NAS) recommended alternative measure, as noted. But one could also use the Census Bureau’s very cool table maker to make the following figure, comparing the share of poor persons under market income and post-tax, post-transfer income (i.e., you can if you’re my colleague AS–h/t). It a somewhat different exercise, because the NAS measure uses a different poverty threshold than the official one and assigns a value to publicly provided health coverage.
But the results are qualitatively the same. Market income poverty goes up about four percentage points; post-tax/transfer poverty goes up about one point. As I stress in the piece, the safety net helped to offset some of the income losses of the great recession.
Source: Census Bureau
–This post from a while back provides some interesting details around this theme. The data only went through 2009, but they broke out how lower taxes and higher transfers more than offset the real income losses for the poorest fifth of households and offset 5/6’s of the losses for the middle fifth (that’s mostly UI benefits, btw).
–A key point of this piece I wrote for the American Prospect is that one of the problems we face now is that although the safety net was effective, a) it’s under attack, and b) once it fades, too many households face structural, as opposed to cyclical, barriers to getting ahead.
Progressives did well, at least during President Barack Obama’s first two years, at expanding the safety net during a serious economic emergency, using taxes and income transfers. But they have not done well in addressing the long-term trend of an erosion of “primary” income, namely wages and salaries. This leads to a paradox: A lot of people get help in a deep recession, but their incomes and life prospects stagnate during relatively good times. Looking forward, both the safety net and measures that might improve the primary income distribution will be under increasing attack from pressures to cut the budget deficit. In fact, there are plenty of strategies that could help reconnect families and children to restored economic growth, but policy is pushing in the opposite direction.