Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors: Thirteenth Report to Congress. Economic Security Risk Factor 4. Poverty Rates with Various Means-tested Transfers Counted as Income

03/01/2014

Figure ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population Below the Official Poverty Line with Various Means-Tested Transfers Counted as Income: 1979-2011

(In percent)

Figure ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population Below the Official Poverty Line with Various Means-Tested Transfers Counted as Income: 1979-2011

Note: The four measures of income are as follows: (1) “Cash income plus all social insurance” is earnings and cash income, plus social security, workers compensation, disability, unemployment, public and private pensions, veterans benefits and other social insurance cash transfers. It does not include means-tested cash transfers; (2) “Plus means-tested cash transfers” is the official Census Bureau income definition, which includes means-tested cash transfers, primarily AFDC/TANF and SSI; (3) “Plus food and housing benefits” counts the cash value of means-tested food and housing benefits as income; and (4) “Plus EITC and federal taxes” is the most comprehensive income measure used. It adds the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to income, while subtracting federal payroll and income taxes. The fungible value of Medicare and Medicaid is not included in any of the income measures.

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1980-2011, analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office.


  • Figure ECON 4 shows the percentage of the population below the official poverty line with various means-tested transfers counted as income for the years 1979 to 2011. The official poverty rate – using the official income definition, which includes means-tested cash transfers (primarily TANF and SSI) in addition to pre-transfer cash income and social insurance cash transfers – was 15.0 percent in 2011. Without cash welfare, the 2011 poverty rate would be 15.8 percent.
  • Adding non-cash, means-tested transfers to the official income definition has the effect of lowering the percentage of people with incomes below the official poverty line. Including the value of food and housing benefits in total income would reduce the poverty rate to 12.9 percent in 2011.
  • When income is defined to include the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the effect of federal taxes, the percentage of people below the official poverty line would decrease to 11.2 percent in 2011. Federal taxes and the EITC have had the net effect of reducing poverty rates following the EITC expansions in 1993 and 1995.
  • Table ECON 4 shows the percentage of the population below the official poverty line with various means-tested transfers counted as income for selected years. The combined effect of means-tested cash transfers, food and housing benefits, the EITC, and federal taxes was to reduce the poverty rate in 2011 by 4.6 percentage points. Net reductions in poverty rates were smaller during the 1981 - 1982 recession, and higher in the mid-1990s, largely due to expansions in the EITC.

Table ECON 4. Percentage of Total Population Below the Official Poverty Line with Various Means-Tested Transfers Counted as Income: Selected Years

  Cash income plus all social insurance Plus means-tested cash transfers (official poverty measure) Plus food and housing benefits Plus EITC and federal taxes Reduction in poverty rate
1979 12.8 11.6 9.7 10 2.8
1983 16.0 15.2 13.7 14.7 1.3
1986 14.5 13.6 12.2 13.1 1.4
1989 13.8 12.8 11.2 11.8 2.0
1992 15.6 14.5 12.9 13.0 2.6
1995 14.9 13.8 12.0 11.5 3.4
1998 13.5 12.7 11.3 10.4 3.1
2000 12.0 11.3 10.1 9.5 2.5
2002 12.8 12.1 10.9 10.0 2.8
2005 13.3 12.6 11.2 10.3 3.0
2007 13.2 12.5 11.1 10.1 3.1
2008 13.9 13.2 11.7 10.1 3.8
2009 15.1 14.3 12.4 10.5 4.6
2010 15.8 15.1 13.0 11.3 5.0
2011 15.8 15.0 12.9 11.2 4.6

Note: The four measures of income are as follows: (1) “Cash income plus all social insurance” is earnings and cash income, plus social security, workers compensation, disability, unemployment, public and private pensions, veterans benefits and other social insurance cash transfers. It does not include means-tested cash transfers; (2) “Plus means-tested cash transfers” is the official Census Bureau income definition, which includes means-tested cash transfers, primarily AFDC/TANF and SSI; (3) “Plus food and housing benefits” counts the `cash value of means-tested food and housing benefits as income; and (4) “Plus EITC and federal taxes” is the most comprehensive income measure used. It adds the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to income, while subtracting federal payroll and income taxes. The fungible value of Medicare and Medicaid is not included in any of the income measures.

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1980-2011, analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office.

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