There was some discussion on Twitter earlier today about one of my favorite themes—the large reduction in poverty associated with the Great Society and the uptick in poverty circa 1980. I’ve been persuaded that the best way to understand this is by looking at the Census Bureau’s numbers on “Poverty Status by Age, Race, and Hispanic Status” and “Poverty Status by Family Relationship” that you can download here .
Here’s a combined chart:
You see a lot of different things happening here. One is poverty among seniors declining thanks to Great Society expansion of retirement support programs. The other is a jump in poverty for non-seniors during the 1978-82 period that persisted throughout the Reagan-Bush years. This was in part driven by an increase in the proportion of female-headed households without husbands, but the same pattern appears within that subset. We then had a giant reduction in poverty among this group in the 1990s which was a combination of strong economic performance, “welfare reform,” and also the fact that the Clinton administration really wanted to make welfare reform work so threw lots of stuff—EITC expansion, SCHIP, etc.—at making it work. Then we saw a slow, steady erosion of that progress.