Report: Government Policy Has Not Improved Self-Sufficiency of Those in Poverty

While material deprivation declined since 1980, self-sufficiency has remained flat

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• March 9, 2017 12:45 pm


Federal government policy has not helped poor individuals become more self-sufficient, according to a report from the American Action Forum.

The group's experts found that the Census Bureau's official poverty metrics do not accurately capture aspects of poverty such as an individual’s material wellbeing or capacity to be self-sufficient.

According to the report, government policy did improve the material wellbeing of those in poverty, which is generally characterized as having the basic necessities of life such as shelter and food.

While the official poverty rate produced by the Census increased from 13 to 14.5 percent from 1980 to 2013, material deprivation poverty fell to 7.8 percent.

"Since 1980 material deprivation has fallen substantially to the point where only 4 to 8 percent of people in America actually lack the ability to afford life's basic necessities," the authors say. "This decline in material deprivation is a vindication that federal anti-poverty initiatives have been very successful in alleviating suffering."

Federal programs, however, have not improved self-sufficiency, or an individual's ability to earn on his own. While material deprivation declined from 1980 to 2013, self-sufficiency remained flat.

"Households were no less likely to be unable to support themselves in 2013 than they were in 1980," the authors say. "This suggests that federal programs have been unable to successfully attach able-bodied people to the workforce and build worker skills to help households support themselves."

Because of these trends, the authors suggest that anti-poverty programs should focus on increasing self-sufficiency: "One way to accomplish this is to implement pro-work safety net programs that require able bodied people to engage in work or work-related activities in order to receive federal benefits. By incentivizing program beneficiaries to work and build skills, work requirements give households in poverty the best path to self-sufficiency."

The House GOP's "Better Way" agenda is one way to do this, the study's experts said, because it attempts to connect able-bodied individuals to work. The blueprint would require recipients of anti-poverty programs like food stamps, housing assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to engage in work or work-related activities.

Published under: Welfare