Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, June 25, 2015

La Follette School faculty examine the War on Poverty

La Follette School faculty examine the War on Poverty

The measurement, trends and policies related to the U.S. government’s 50-year War on Poverty are discussed in a new journal article.

La Follette School faculty Robert Haveman, Rebecca Blank, Timothy Smeeding, and Geoffrey Wallace, plus Robert Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University, present a historical perspective of the nation’s antipoverty efforts in the summer 2015 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Since 1965, public support has shifted away from cash income support to in-kind and tax-related benefits such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which eroded the safety net for the most disadvantaged in American society, the authors note.

They also describe how poverty is analyzed and measured. In contrast to the official poverty measure, a newer supplemental measure accounts for noncash and tax-related benefits. This supplemental measure finds that poverty has declined, rather than remained flat as the official measure suggests. An article adapted from this section of the JPAM article will appear in the fall La Follette Policy Report.

The article uses both measures to presents snapshots of the poor populations and it documents antipoverty program expenditures.

“Although the effectiveness of government antipoverty transfers is debated, our findings indicate that the growth of antipoverty policies has reduced the overall level of poverty, with substantial reductions among the elderly, disabled, and blacks,” the authors note. “However, the poverty rates for children, especially those living in single-parent families, and families headed by a low-skill, low-education person, have increased. Rates of deep poverty (families living with less than one-half of the poverty line) for the nonelderly population have not decreased, reflecting both the increasing labor market difficulties faced by the low-skill population and the tilt of means-tested benefits away from the poorest of the poor.”