Economic Security Programs Cut Poverty Nearly in Half Over Last 50 Years

Using a version of the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) — a more comprehensive metric than the official poverty measure — 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. Poverty fell from 26.0 percent in 1967 to 14.4 percent in 2017 by this measure. Most of the improvement came from economic security programs. Earnings and other non-government sources of income did not improve sufficiently over this period to reduce poverty substantially.

In 1967, economic security programs lifted above the poverty line just 4 percent of those who would otherwise be poor. By 2017, that figure had jumped to 43 percent.

In 2018 poverty fell again to a new record low of 12.8 percent by our measure: the SPM with an inflation-adjusted poverty line. Changes in the Census Bureau’s survey methods make 2018 data not strictly comparable to 1967. But the Census Bureau provides enough data about this survey transition to make clear that the SPM poverty rate reached a record low in 2018 by our measure.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities