Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2001 . Economic Security Risk Factor 4. Poverty Rates with Various Means-tested Benefits Included

03/01/2001

Figure ECON 4.  Percentage of Total Population in Poverty with Various Means-Tested Benefits Added to Total Cash Income: 1979-1999

Figure ECON 4.  Percentage of Total Population in Poverty with Various Means-Tested Benefits Added to Total Cash Income: 1979-1999

Source:  Congressional Budget Office tabulations of March CPS data.  Additional calculations by DHHS.


  • Benefits from means-tested assistance programs remove some people from poverty.  The official definition of poverty – which includes means-tested cash assistance (primarily TANF and SSI) in addition to cash income and social insurance – was 11.8 percent in 1999, as shown in the bold line in Figure ECON 4.  Without cash welfare, the 1999 poverty rate would be one percentage point higher, or 12.7 percent, as shown by the top line in the figure above.

  • Adding other, non-cash, public assistance benefits to this definition has the effect of lowering the percentage of people who have incomes below the official poverty rate.  Adding in the value of food and housing benefits reduces the poverty rate to 10.6 percent in 1999.

  • When income is defined as including benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and federal taxes, the percentage of the total population in poverty decreases to 9.8 percent in 1999.  Taxes have had a net effect of reducing poverty rates since the significant increases in the size of the EITC in 1993 and 1995.

Table ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population in Poverty with Various Means-Tested Benefits Added to Total Cash Income: Selected Years

  1979 1983 1986 1989 1993 1995 1996 1998 1999
Cash Income Plus All Social Insurance 12.8 16.0 14.5 13.7 16.3 14.9 14.8 13.5 12.7
  Plus Means-Tested Cash Assistance 11.6 15.2 13.6 12.8 15.1 13.8 13.7 12.7 11.8
  Plus Food and Housing Benefits 9.7 13.7 12.2 11.2 13.4 12.0 12.1 11.3 10.6
  Plus EITC and Federal Taxes 10.0 14.7 13.1 11.7 13.3 11.5 11.5 10.4 9.8
Reduction in Poverty Rate 2.8 1.3 1.4 2.0 3.0 3.4 3.3 3.1 2.9

Note: The four measures of income are as follows: 1) “Cash Income plus All Social Insurance” is earnings and other private cash income, plus social security, workers’ compensation, and other social insurance programs.  It does not include means-tested cash transfers; (2) “Plus Means-Tested Assistance” shows the official poverty rate, which takes into account means-tested assistance, primarily AFDC/TANF and SSI; (3) “Plus Food and Housing Benefits” shows how poverty would be lower if the cash value of food and housing benefits were counted as income; and (4); “Plus EITC and Federal Taxes” is the most comprehensive poverty rate shown. EITC refers to the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, which is always a positive adjustment to income whereas Federal payroll and income taxes are a negative adjustment. The fungible value of Medicare and Medicaid is not included.

Source: Congressional Budget Office tabulations of March CPS data. Additional calculations by DHHS.


  • The combined effect of means-tested cash assistance, food and housing benefits, EITC and taxes was to reduce the poverty rate in 1999 by 2.9 percentage points, as shown in Table ECON 4.  Net reductions in poverty rates were somewhat lower during the recession of the early 1980s, and somewhat higher in the mid-1990s, largely due to expansions in the EITC.

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