How the Safety Net Cuts Poverty Rates

Without Social Security, the poverty rate among senior citizens in the U.S. would be more than 50 percent; instead, it’s just 14.6 percent. For people of all ages, food stamps cut the poverty rate by about 10 percent, and they reduce poverty among those under 18 by even more than that. And refundable tax credits, many of which help the working poor, reduce the poverty rate among children by more than a quarter.

That’s the power of the safety net, as shown by new U.S. Census Bureau data measuring poverty in America. The federal poverty rate is based solely on income—for 2013, it was $23,624 for a family of four. But the so-called Supplemental Poverty Measure, released this month, adjusts income to account for the value of housing subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (also known as welfare), Social Security, food stamps (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other programs.

– The PEW Charitable Trusts

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