treeRecent periods of social unrest – like the rioting in Baltimore and other incidents throughout the country – have done a lot to reinvigorate the national political conversation surrounding poverty.

Most of the focus has been on determining the efficacy of government spending programs and initiatives. Conservatives argue today’s highly-publicized episodes of urban dissent are vivid illustrations of the government’s failure in alleviating poverty.


Others Argue More Analysis of Data Is Necessary

A new study, conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, just turned the tables – postulating that the government’s Safety Net is doing more to diminish poverty and encourage social mobility than anyone suspected – even its mainstay supporters.

The CBPP study used an innovative statistical analysis technique to calculate the impact government programs really do have on nation-wide poverty levels. The technique was implemented to correct for what the CBPP calls “defects” in standard and traditional data-collection methods.


Enhanced Tools

studyThis new study attempts to overcome a long-standing research difficulty – how to gather accurate and compelling data on the government’s ability to significantly influence poverty and social mobility throughout the country.

The standard assessment tool is the “Official Poverty Rate”, but it leaves out some pretty vital variables. The Poverty Rate doesn’t account for the impact of certain federal programs – like Medicaid, Rental and Food Aid, Low-income tax relief programs, and the like – which makes it fallible at best (and useless at worst).

Aside from that, the Supplemental Poverty Measure is the next best bet. It’s a census-based metric that’s undoubtedly more useful than the Official Poverty Rate, as it does calculate the impact of non-direct-cash-transfer programs.

Well, the CBPP study went beyond even the Supplemental Measure – adding data collected from a new micro-simulation that enriches census-information in effort to zero-in on legitimate numbers, matching them to figures representative of actual participation in government initiatives and programs.


What Did They Find?

The results reveal nothing less than a measurable success. Nobody can say the war on poverty is over or won – but the CBPP study bellowed victory in at least a few major battles:

  • They found that the federal safety net split the yearly poverty rate by over half in 2012, dropping it from 29.1% to 13.8.%.
  • Additionally, the rate of people in deep-poverty dropped from 18.8% to a mere 3.6%, the food-stamps program brought over 10 million people above the poverty line and over 5 million out of deep-poverty, and federal tax relief programs raised again over 10 million people over the threshold.

This is big news. Downward redistribution of resources can have a positive effect.