More Than A Quarter Of Americans Would Have Lived In Poverty Last Year Without The Social Safety Net

Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have spent much of the year trying to gut social safety net programs vital to the livelihood of America’s poor and elderly citizens. From House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare-ending budget plan to multiple proposals from the GOP’s presidential candidates, conservatives have sought to extract massive cuts from important programs, even while supplying the wealthiest Americans with massive tax cuts.

But Americans continue to rely heavily on safety net programs to stay afloat, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Without the permanent safety net programs (including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various assistance programs) and temporary programs included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (which Republicans have falsely claimed didn’t work), more than a quarter of the country’s population would have fallen beneath the poverty line in 2010, CBPP says:

Our report also shows that if the government safety net as a whole — these temporary initiatives (all were featured in the 2009 Recovery Act) plus safety-net policies already in place when the recession hit — hadn’t existed in 2010, the poverty rate would have been 28.6 percent, nearly twice the actual 15.5 percent.

CBPP’s report comes on the heels of newly-refined poverty measures from the Census Bureau that painted an even bleaker picture of American poverty. According to the new measure, 16 percent of the population, or approximately 49.1 million Americans, lived in poverty in 2010, up from 46.2 million found in the official report released in September. The bulk of that difference comes from seniors, the very people who rely most on social safety net programs. Because the alternative measure takes out-of-pocket medical expenses into account, it found that nearly 16 percent of those over age 65 lived in poverty in 2010, up from 9 percent in the September report.