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Evidence Shows that Anti-Poverty Programs like Social Security Actually Work

Through the years, no US government initiative has been criticized as much as anti-poverty programs. Many are quick to dismiss such initiatives as playing no role in society since most of the recipients are probably undeserving individuals.

The myth was however quickly dispelled once a newspaper highlighted the nation’s current state in terms of anti-poverty efforts. The research showed that a lot of progress was made which enabled the initiatives to serve their goals. Of all the initiatives, none comes close to Social Security in terms of performance.

Comprehensively, five out of six of the initiatives sharply lowered poverty. They classed a state of deep poverty as individuals with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty line. The sixth initiative was classed as having a pronounced impact among the working poor

In their analysis, the authors, Derek Wu and Bruce D. Meyers of the University of Chicago made utility of administrative statistics drawn from about six major programs that facilitated them to demonstrate that a good number of the projects actually led to reduced levels of poverty.

Their research, conducted between 2008 and 2013, during the Great Recession period, was able to determine the programs responsible for the reduction of deep poverty were the Social Security initiative, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), popularly also known as “welfare”, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps or SNAP, and housing assistance. The sixth initiative is the Earned Income Tax Credit which greatly benefits those families that earn about 150% of the poverty line set at about $25,100 in yearly income when taking into account an average family of four.


Meyer believes that most people don’t want to acknowledge that such initiatives actually play a major role in the reduction of poverty levels. All this despite that there is no evidence that one can argue a case for the continuation of such initiatives in order to lower poverty

Weber and Wu made conclusions that estimates by the Census Bureau surveys actually underreported the benefits brought about by such programs. This was because the body used conventional means of measurement. Because of this, the two authors shared that they believe that the impact of food stamps and welfare initiatives have been underestimated greatly in the range of a third to one-half. On the other hand, the impact of Social Security has been underestimated by as much as 44%.

Going forward, a change in method of operation is expected especially when it comes to budget cuts and reviews. Normally, most of the programs are constantly attacked by budget –cutters and conservatives looking to effect modifications to the expenditure budget. Most argue their case that the initiatives have not had a noticeable dent in society in terms of lowering poverty levels. Despite the fact that such initiatives have existed for the better part of 50 years.

The Difference

The Republican faction of the government always seems to be the first to pounce on the opportunity to attack such initiatives. The practice is said to stem from Ronald Reagan’s term as president where he ridiculed such initiatives for failing to tackle the poverty issue in the country

Using such thinking, many Republicans have tried to hand anti-poverty initiatives over to private and philanthropic organizations, blocking certain states from accessing the funds, initialize proposals backing the trimming of the program’s benefits.

Thanks to their research, Meyer and Wu document that Social Security alone has led to the reduction of poverty among the elderly by about 75%. The other initiatives seem to serve non-elderly households much more effectively, at lower rates.

Previously in 2012, Meyer’s research with one James X. Sullivan of Notre Dame was able to produce results that led to their conclusion that the official poverty rate accounting did not take into account tax credits received by needing households such as the EITC. In addition, such estimates also forgot to take into account the impact of housing benefits, food stamps, and other in-kind transfers.

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