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U.S. Winning the ‘War on Poverty’

By Jazelle Hunt NNPA Washington Correspondent | 12/24/2013, noon
Presidents Barack Obama (left) and Lydon B. Johnson (right)

Elise Gould, an economist with think tank nonprofit, Economic Policy Institute also believes in the potential of this measure.

“We absolutely see that if we look at measures—even just the OPM—that if it had not been for these economic programs more people would be in poverty. All these programs like sick days, housing vouchers, child care credits, help lift people out of poverty,” she says. “And the SPM is absolutely the best thing today to examine that. Trying to recreate it back in time is a great undertaking.”

The researchers also calculated SPM-based poverty rates for the elderly, working age people, children, and for those in deep poverty (who live on 50 percent or less of the poverty threshold). Taxes and transfers have kept deep poverty around five percent since the ‘70s. Without them, that rate would be closer to 15 and 20 percent.

This study comes at a time when media spotlight has focused on the rising tide of poverty, especially for urban children. But this month Congress approved nearly $40 billion of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) over the next decade, starting last month. One in seven Americans will be affected.

“It’s not that we’ve solved the problems through these programs—there’s still 15 or 16 percent of the country living in poverty under our measure,” Wimer says. “But our research shows that programs like SNAP do a decent job of helping families meet their food costs, which clears room in the budget to pay rent.”

Gould, who also studies economic mobility, believes that while safety net programs are essential, they’re only half the battle.

“Government support has done an incredibly good job in helping people, but pre-tax and pre-transfer income for people really hasn’t changed a lot,” she explains. “You have to really think of ways to increase people’s income and that usually means better wages. When the economy is not doing a great job of serving and providing jobs for ordinary people, the government has to step in. With both aspects, you can do a fair amount to alleviate poverty in this country.”