Graph depicting Republican Politicians Radically Overstate Anti-Poverty Spending
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Description: The Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee issued a press release claiming that we spend $5,100 per month. Actual welfare spending per family living in poverty is only $760 per month.

Sources: Weekly Standard   In These Times

Data: Excel

Last updated: March 16, 2016


Republican Politicians Radically Overstate Anti-Poverty Spending

Discussion: The Republican Party places a great deal of emphasis on the notion that our government is overly generous to poor people. In order to bolster this belief, and hence support for the Republican efforts to cut the safety net, Senate Republicans released shocking numbers about the amount we spend on poverty amelioration. The figure they arrived at is that we spend $61,194 a year on anti-poverty programs for each poor family. $61,194 is more than the median family income and three times as much as the poverty line. Thus the figure was used, alternately, to promote either the idea that the poor are actually better off financially than the middle class (which does not make much sense) or the idea that government is so inefficient that somehow that $61k in spending was basically evaporating before it reaches the people who need it.

However, these figures are wildly off the mark. After being called to task by fact checkers, the Republicans released some citations that they claimed supported their figures. It turned out that they were actually just totaling up the budgets of all "means-tested" programs, which is not remotely the same as actual poverty amelioration programs, and then they were just dividing the total by the number of households in poverty. But, that does not make any sense, since most of the means-tested program benefits go to households that are not in poverty.

The actual figure is far less impressive: we spend on average $760 per month, between federal and state spending, per household that is in poverty, including all sources of aid from food stamps to actual welfare checks (TANF) to rent subsidies. For a household of three living purely off of public assistance, that might break down as $450 in rent, $70 per person per month for food, and $100 for utilities and transportation for three people.

Were the numbers cited by the Republicans accurate, nearly every person in the country would agree that we were spending too much on poverty amelioration, but it is difficult to argue that $760 a month is too much. In fact, it appears to be far too little, given how effective cash welfare spending is at reducing poverty.

See more graphs about: Poverty   Inequality  

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