Economic Security Programs Cut Poverty Nearly in Half Over Last 50 Years, New Data Show

Using the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) — a more comprehensive metric than the official poverty measure, which counts only cash income — we calculate that the poverty rate has fallen by nearly half since 1967, largely due to the growing effectiveness of economic security programs such as Social Security, food assistance, and tax credits for working families. The SPM poverty rate fell from 25.1 percent in 1967 to 13.9 percent in 2017, with most of this improvement coming from the increased anti-poverty impact of economic security programs. Earnings and other non-government sources of income did not improve sufficiently over this period to reduce poverty substantially.[1] At 13.9 percent, the SPM poverty rate in 2017 was statistically tied with the record low of 14.1 percent in 2000, with data going back to 1967.

In 1967, economic security programs lifted above the poverty line just 5 percent of those who would otherwise be poor; by 2017, that figure had jumped to 44 percent. These programs lifted 36 million people out of poverty last year, including nearly 7 million children.

Measured with the SPM, the child poverty rate remained at a record low of 15.6 percent in 2017, statistically tied with 2016’s record low — and a little more than half its 1967 level of 28.6 percent. This, too, largely reflects the growing anti-poverty impact of assistance policies; before taking benefits and tax policies into account, child poverty has improved only modestly over the past five decades, falling from 27.7 percent to 24.6 percent between 1967 and 2017. Some 7 million more children would have been poor in 2017 if the anti-poverty effectiveness of economic security programs had remained at its 1967 level.

“We calculate that the poverty rate has fallen by nearly half since 1967, largely due to the growing effectiveness of economic security programs.”

– Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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