Raw Data: Who’s Winning the War on Poverty?

As an old saw says, we’ve been fighting the war on poverty for half a century and poverty won. But is that true?

The poorest households have an average market income of $20,000. After means-tested assistance programs and tax credits are included, their income is $36,000. Working-class families see an increase from $44,000 to $49,000. Income groups above that are net losers, paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

We could do a lot more, but it looks to me as if poverty has taken a serious beating—and this doesn’t even count Social Security and Medicare, which have taken millions of seniors out of poverty. So why does it often seem as if poverty won the war? I can think of a few reasons:

  • It’s still around. This has not been the kind of unconditional surrender that Americans love. It’s a grinding effort that goes on forever, and on city streets poverty can often appear to be worse than ever.
  • It’s too complicated. Yes, a lot of money gets disbursed, but it’s broken up into dozens of programs that all require separate applications; have to be renewed constantly; and yo-yo around depending on the vagaries of income and congressional largesse. Even the recipients of government assistance probably don’t realize how much help they’re actually getting.
  • Medicaid. A fair amount of means-tested assistance comes in the form of Medicaid and CHIP, which doesn’t actually put money in anyone’s pocket or buy anyone’s dinner.
  • It helps the wrong people. There are plenty of folks who think of money going to blacks and Hispanics as little better than flushed down the drain. Needless to say, conservatives do their best to encourage this view.

Life is still hard for a lot of people, but don’t be overly pessimistic about how much we’ve accomplished. Poverty will never be completely eradicated, but we’ve done a helluva lot to put it on the run.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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