CHART: How Government Programs Keep Millions Of Americans Out Of Poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual poverty estimates, released today, found that the poverty rate remained stable in 2011 after three consecutive years of rapid increases during and after the Great Recession. But 46.2 million Americans still live in poverty, defined as less than $23,000 in annual income for a family of four.

The data also noted that government benefits played a significant role in keeping millions of Americans — particularly women, children, and the elderly — out of poverty. Social Security alone kept roughly 21.4 million people out poverty, and unemployment benefits helped an additional 2.3 million stave off poverty last year alone.

The Census Bureau estimates it poverty rate based on cash income and assistance, but many government programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and certain tax credits aimed at combating poverty, aren’t included in its income estimates. Including SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, in the Census data would lift another 3.9 million Americans out of poverty, and including the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-income taxpayers would bring 5.7 million people above the poverty line. Other tax credits aimed at low-income working families, like the Child Tax Credit, would keep millions more out of poverty if they were included.

This chart from Melissa Boteach, the director of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, breaks down how many Americans avoided poverty thanks to certain government programs:

Many of these programs, however, are facing cuts as Congress attempts to reduce the federal budget deficit and national debt. The House Republican budget included massive cuts to SNAP and other food assistance programs; all told, it could have booted millions of people off of food stamps and 280,000 from the school lunch program. Under tax plans put forth by both House and Senate Republicans, meanwhile, 12 million Americans would have lost part or all of the Child Tax Credit, while six million would have lost part or all of the Earned Income Tax Credit, an effective tax hike on millions of families.