Economic Snapshot | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

Cuts to Safety Net Programs Threaten Millions: SNAP and Unemployment Insurance Kept 7.5 Million People out of Poverty

Earlier this month, the Census Bureau released its annual report of the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), a more accurate measure of economic well-being than the official poverty line. The SPM is also valuable because it enables researchers to evaluate the impact of federal income support programs on poverty levels. In essence, it allows you to see what the SPM poverty rate would have been, were it not for programs like Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), food stamps, and others.

The figure shows that the supplemental poverty rate for 2012 was unchanged from last year’s rate of 16.0 percent. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps, lifted 5 million people out of poverty; and unemployment insurance shielded 2.5 million Americans from poverty. Refundable tax credits, such as the EITC and the child tax credit, kept another 9.3 million out of poverty. The figure also shows, as we have noted in the past, that Social Security is the largest anti-poverty program in the US, keeping 26.4 million Americans out of poverty last year.

Cuts to these programs that have already occurred and are scheduled to occur threaten the livelihood of millions of America’s families, and would further derail the nation’s weak job growth.

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