On December 5, 2013, researchers at Columbia University’s Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC) published a paper that proves what every person working in the public assistance arena always knew: government programs aimed at decreasing poverty work.  Having worked for the state on Indiana’s welfare agency for 23 years, it is heartening to see the positive effects of the myriad social service programs validated and that the hard work and dedication of the staff running those programs has not been in vain.

The paper itself is fascinating.  The Columbia team, using a modified version of the Census Bureau’s ‘supplemental poverty measure,’ looked at the poverty rate and benefits from anti-poverty programs from 1967 through 2012 (LBJ’s Great Society through the Great Recession) and how those programs helped low-income families.

Government benefits under review run the gamut:

  • Food assistance (SNAP, WIC, school lunch program)
  • Means tested cash assistance (TANF/AFDC/SSI)
  • Non-means tested cash benefits (Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, government pensions, etc.)
  • Housing assistance (LIHEAP and housing subsidies)
  • Taxes and tax credits (EITC)

The results of the study show that when government programs are excluded from measuring poverty the percentage of families in poverty increased from 1967 to 2012 from 27% to 29%; however, when anti-poverty benefits are included in the calculation, the poverty rates drastically decrease over the same period (26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012).

Below is a link to the paper: