Skip navigation
No more
Know more

Something people forget about Social Security: It’s America’s biggest anti-poverty program, by far

Something people forget about Social Security: It’s America’s biggest anti-poverty program, by far

The official poverty rate isn’t that great a guide to the state of poverty in the United States. It’s defined as the amount of money a family of three would have to make to spend less than one-third of their income on food in 1963 and 1964. Seriously. The only changes from a half-century ago have been adjustments for inflation. At no point was the measure changed to account for other costs, like health insurance, transportation, or housing, or to factor in income from transfer programs like food stamps or WIC.

The Census released the 2012 numbers for that alternate measure yesterday, which show no change from 2011. But the differences between the alternate measure and the official one allow one to see the influence of various non-wage income sources — including tax credits, transfer programs, government subsidies, child support, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance — on poverty. Far and away the most important of the bunch is Social Security, which keeps millions of seniors and disabled people from falling below the poverty line. Many seniors still fall through the cracks — which might argue for expanding Social Security — but far fewer than if the program didn’t exist.

Dylan Matthews | November 7, 2013 at 9:00 am
Know more: Millions of Americans live in extreme poverty. Here’s how they get by.
No more
Know more
America’s fracking debate, mapped
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
Obscenely rich Americans are driving global lion hunting
Ana Swanson
ADVERTISEMENT
No more
Know more
One mind-blowing map about the world’s population
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
World leaders, mapped by hair color
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
A literary guide to the American road trip
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
The U.S. has experienced, on average, one mass shooting per day this year
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
How satellite photos reveal the secrets of the global economy
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
Why time really does seem to go faster as you get older
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
A surprising chart shows just how much women outlive men
Ana Swanson
No more
Know more
Map: Which states could legalize marijuana next
Ana Swanson