GOP Poverty Plan Ignores the Evidence

One stated goal of the new poverty plan from House Speaker Paul Ryan and his House GOP colleagues is ensuring that our anti-poverty policies are “evidence-based.” That’s a laudable goal.  Unfortunately, the plan itself ignores the large amount of evidence that we already have about the effectiveness of some of our most powerful anti-poverty tools, including SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and housing assistance.

In a particularly egregious example, the House GOP plan repeats the discredited claim that the federal government has spent trillions of dollars on anti-poverty programs with little or no impact on poverty, stating, “the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8%) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7%), when many of these programs started.” The clear implication is that the programs had no effect.

Analysts across the political spectrum — including a bipartisan panel of witnesses who testified at a 2014 House Budget Committee hearing that Mr. Ryan himself chaired have repudiated this characterization. As these and other analysts have explained, comparing today’s official poverty rate to that of the late 1960s is essentially meaningless because the official rate fails to count virtually all the major anti-poverty programs created or expanded since the late 1960s — SNAP, the EITC, rental vouchers, etc. While the official measure ignores these anti-poverty programs, it includes anti-poverty supports that have been cut sharply, such as cash welfare assistance for poor families with children. This is why the official poverty rate shows no improvement.

A broader poverty measure that counts all cash and cash-like assistance provided by the federal government tells a different story. The safety net currently lifts tens of millions of Americans above the poverty line, including children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Moreover, the safety net cuts poverty by more than 42 percent and is ten times more effective in reducing poverty than it was a half century ago (see graph).

– Real Clear Policy

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