Policy choices cut poverty nearly in half

Clark Biegler
Oct 20, 2014

Public policies like Social Security, refundable tax credits and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cut poverty in the U.S. nearly in half in 2013.

This finding comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which took a look at Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that federal policies lifted 39 million people, including 8 million children, out of poverty last year.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure is a more comprehensive way to measure poverty that better takes into account the costs faced by today’s families, as well as support families may receive to meet their basic needs.

The official poverty measure was originally developed in the early 1960s. It is often criticized for being overly simplistic and outdated, because it is only based on cash income and the cost of food. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) takes a more sophisticated look at household economic well-being, taking into account expenses like child care, medical bills and taxes; as well as other resources, like housing subsidies, heating assistance and food support. The SPM gives a more complete picture of who is unable to meet basic needs.

State policy choices have a role to play as well. Minnesota policymakers took important steps in the 2014 Legislative Session so that people who work can support themselves and their families. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans will better be able to make ends meet because of policy decisions to strengthen the Working Family Tax Credit and increase the minimum wage.

Policymakers can make further progress this coming session by addressing the challenge of affordable child care. Increasing funding for Basic Sliding Fee Child Care – which today has a waiting list of about 6,600 families – and expanding the Dependent Care Tax Credit would be two important steps in this direction.

-Clark Biegler