Today, Julian Omidi discusses an interpretation of new data from U.S. Census data on poverty levels in the nation. It seems government safety nets are doing some good.
You often hear debate about whether certain government programs do anything worthwhile. Most of the time it is just baseless speculation.
A new study from PEW Charitable Trusts offers some real data from the U.S. Census Bureau to shed some light on the subject.
Social Security, food stamps, unemployment benefits and earned income tax credits all seem to have an effect on the poverty level. Some of the study’s findings include:
- The official poverty rate in the U.S. was 14.5 percent (45.3 million people)
- Without food stamps, the poverty rate would be 17.1 percent (an additional 8 million people)
- Without Social Security, poverty rate for Americans 65 and over would be 52.67 percent instead of 14.6 percent currently
- Without programs like earned income tax credits, poverty for children under 18 would be 22.8 percent (19.9 percent currently)
These numbers are staggering. Consider what America would look like if each of these programs were removed or cut back significantly. That is what safety nets are for. No one wants people to live in poverty, but America continues to have problems with income inequality.
The great poverty divide
In the current political debate on poverty, both sides have answers, but they seem to be coming from opposite directions. Those on the right wish to see these programs cut or changed, and those on the left wish to see them improved, for the most part.
Most Americans are somewhere in the middle. Some reform is certainly necessary, but these programs are helping people currently. How can we improve things and make sure no one slips through the net while curtailing abuses? This is one of the most difficult questions of our time.
We can certainly use some better metrics on the matter. Census information only considers income level to determine whether someone is under the poverty level. This doesn’t include things like food stamps and other programs that help people.
In 2010 our government introduced the supplemental poverty rate, which considers consumer spending on necessities like shelter, food and utilities. Someday this measure may be used as to determine assistance levels. It has the potential to reign in abusers and find those eligible people who need help.
Things keep getting better, as a whole, for all of us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continually try to improve. Look for solutions and not ammo. Our public discourse will be much better off.
Thanks for reading,
Julian Omidi and his brother, Michael Omidi, are co-founders of No More Poverty, a charity committed to the eradication of income inequality.