More About Arloc Sherman

Arloc Sherman

Sherman is a Senior Researcher focusing on family income trends, income support policies, and the causes and consequences of poverty.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

November 1 SNAP Cut Will Hit Veterans in Every State

October 28, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Count low-income veterans — thousands in every state, according to a new Center analysis —  among the nearly 48 million people whose nutrition benefits will be cut later this week.  As we’ve previously explained, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ends on November 1, which will result in a benefit cut for each of the program’s recipients.

The 2009 Recovery Act temporarily boosted SNAP benefits as a form of effective economic stimulus and to reduce the hardship that low-income families faced during the recession.  This benefit increase is set to expire on November 1.  The coming benefit cut will reduce SNAP benefits, which are already modest, for all households by 7 percent on average, or about $10 per person per month.  Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014 will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families.

Our new analysis, which uses data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, finds that thousands of veterans lived in SNAP households in every state between 2009 and 2011.  For instance, more than 100,000 veterans lived in SNAP households in two states:  Florida (109,500) and Texas (105,700).

This benefit cut hits as the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are beginning their conference committee negotiations on the Farm Bill, which includes a reauthorization of — and proposed cuts to — SNAP.  The House version of the bill would cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years, denying benefits to about 3.8 million people in 2014 and an average of 3 million people each year over the coming decade.

Click here for the full paper and state-by-state data on the impact of the November 1 cuts.

Why Isn’t Poverty Falling? Blame a Too-Quick Retreat on Unemployment Benefits

October 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm

If you are wondering what’s behind the stubbornly high poverty rate, which has remained virtually frozen for the last two years despite continued economic growth, one thing is unemployment insurance (UI).  Not too much UI — too little.  As our new report explains, if the UI system hadn’t weakened, poverty would have fallen in the last two years, instead of remaining stalled at around 15 percent.  And UI will shrink further in just a few months unless Congress acts.

UI benefits kept 1.7 million people — jobless workers and their families — above the poverty line in 2012, according to Census figures.  That’s a lot of people.  Yet it’s 600,000 fewer than in 2011 and 1.5 million fewer than in 2010 (see graph).

To be sure, the decline partly reflects some good news:  fewer workers are jobless so fewer are eligible for benefits.  But that only explains a little of the drop.  The number of unemployed workers fell by 16 percent from 2010 to 2012 (and some of that decline represents jobless workers who gave up looking for work, rather than those who got jobs).  The number of people whom UI protected from poverty plunged by nearly three times as much:  46 percent.

The big reason is the dwindling likelihood that an unemployed worker will receive UI.  The number of UI recipients for every 100 unemployed workers fell from 67 in 2010 to 57 in 2011 and 48 in 2012.

In fact, while the number of jobless workers has been falling, the number of jobless workers who receive no UI benefits has been rising and is higher now than at the bottom of the recession in 2009.

The share of unemployed workers getting UI fell for several reasons.  First, the length and depth of the jobs slump has left many workers unable to find work before their UI benefits run out.  Second, several states have cut the number of weeks of regular, state-funded UI benefits.

But another major reason is that in 2012, policymakers provided fewer weeks of federal UI benefits, which go to long-term unemployed workers.  They cut the number of weeks of federal UI benefits provided through one UI program (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) and chose not to take steps they had taken in the past to continue access to another federal UI program (Extended Benefits), which as a result is essentially no longer available.

Congress’ role is especially important because what’s left of federal UI is scheduled to expire at the end of December unless lawmakers prevent it.  My colleague Chad Stone will discuss this in an upcoming post.

Tomorrow’s Poverty Data: Some Timely Issues to Look For

September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am

The Census Bureau will release the official figures tomorrow on the number of Americans in poverty in 2012, as well as data on the impact of various safety net programs.  The figures will show:

  • Changes in the official poverty rate. If the rate falls, it will be a sign that the recovery—which officially began in June 2009 — finally started to reach the poor in 2012.  Poverty has not fallen by a statistically significant amount since before the recession (see chart).

    This has been a troubling pattern of recent business cycles.  Economic growth has been slow to reach the poor.  In the recovery from the 2001 recession, in fact, poverty rose further and never retreated to its 2001 recession level.

    The poverty rate, which was 15 percent in 2011, would need to fall to 12.5 percent to reach the 2007 level (before the Great Recession) and 11.3 percent to reach the 2000 level.

  • The impact of SNAP, which Congress is considering cutting heavily, in helping families make ends meet. The official poverty figures don’t show the impact of SNAP, because those figures only include cash income.  But the information that the Census Bureau is expected to release tomorrow will include data showing the impact of SNAP on poverty when SNAP benefits are counted as income, as most experts favor (and as various alternative poverty measures from the Census Bureau do).  In 2011, SNAP lifted 3.9 million people, including 1.7 million children, out of poverty, when SNAP benefits are counted.

    House leaders plan to bring for a vote this week a bill cutting SNAP by $40 billion over ten years and dropping at least 4 million low-income people from the program.  SNAP participants already face a sizeable benefit reduction on November 1, when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary benefit boost ends.  The $40 billion in cuts would be on top of that.

  • The impact of unemployment insurance, which is set to shrink at the end of the year. Census is also expected to release data showing the poverty-reducing effects of some programs that the official poverty measure does count, such as unemployment insurance (UI).  UI benefits kept 2.3 million people out of poverty in 2011.

    Congress has already allowed federal UI benefits for the long-term unemployed to weaken (in February 2012, for example, it cut the number of weeks of benefits available from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program), and these benefits will expire altogether in December unless Congress extends them, which now looks questionable.  Long-term unemployment remains a serious problem:  nearly two-fifths of the 11.3 million people who are unemployed have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer, more than in any previous downturn on record.

What tomorrow’s official poverty figures will not show is a meaningful comparison between poverty today and in the 1960s. Some observers compare the official poverty rates then and now and conclude that the nation has made little progress.  This is a deeply flawed — and essentially invalid — comparison, as a new Center report explains, because the official poverty measure captures so little of the poverty relief that today’s safety net provides (through non-cash benefits such as SNAP and tax measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit).

An apples-to-apples comparison shows that poverty today is much lower than it was throughout the 1960s, despite today’s weaker economy.

(By the way, don’t confuse the estimates of anti-poverty effects that the Census Bureau will release tomorrow with estimates based on the federal government’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure.  Those estimates, which Census will update for 2012 later this year, differ in technical details.  Because they use a more comprehensive measure of poverty, they tend to show even larger poverty reductions from non-cash benefits.)

Poverty Has Fallen Since the 1960s, But Official Poverty Measure Masks Progress

September 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm

The Census Bureau’s release next week of updated poverty figures may lead some people to compare today’s poverty rate to those of 1960s and conclude that the last half-century of federal efforts to alleviate poverty have largely failed.

But that’s simply not accurate.  Comparing today’s official poverty rate with those of the 1960s yields highly distorted results because the official poverty measure captures so little of the poverty relief that today’s safety net now provides, as our new analysis explains.

Most analysts recommend using a poverty measure that accounts for major non-cash benefits that the official poverty measure leaves out — namely, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps), rent subsidies, and tax credits for working families.  Such a measure shows that poverty is considerably lower today than it was throughout the 1960s, despite today’s weaker economy.

This expanded poverty measure also reveals the strong anti-poverty effects of non-cash benefits.  Taken together, non-cash benefits and tax credits lifted 12.6 million people above the official poverty line and lowered the poverty rate for 2011 from 15.0 percent to 10.9 percent.  SNAP alone lifted 3.9 million people out of poverty.

Under this expanded measure, poverty trends since the 1960s are more clearly positive than they appear under the official poverty rate (see chart).

Similarly, an analysis of average incomes of the poorest fifth of Americans that counts non-cash benefits and tax credits also shows important progress.  Their average household income was more than 75 percent higher in 2011 than in 1964, when President Johnson announced the War on Poverty.  (That figure is adjusted for inflation and changes in household size.)

Despite these gains, income inequality widened after the early 1970s.  Income growth for households in the middle and lower parts of the scale slowed sharply, while incomes at the top continued to grow robustly.  Incomes of the poorest one-fifth of households grew just 19 percent, adjusted for inflation, between 1973 and 2007 (both years in which the economy was strong).

Safety net programs — although effective over the past 50 years — continue to face the strong headwind of persistently low wages for many workers and rising inequality.  Although we’ve made significant progress in fighting poverty over the last 50 years, it hasn’t been enough.  There is more work to do.

Click here to read the full paper.

The Safety Net: Supporting Working Families and Promoting Work

July 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm

A House Budget Committee hearing today is looking at how anti-poverty programs have worked over the last 50 years.  As I explained yesterday, safety net programs lifted 40 million people — including almost 9 million children — out of poverty in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.  Today, we’ll look at how these programs promote work and support millions of low-income working families.

Efforts to reduce poverty over the past three decades, have shifted so that programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), and Medicaid now do much more to promote work and support low-income working families whose earnings aren’t high enough to make ends meet, as our new paper explains:

Thirty years ago, the main assistance programs for families with children were the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, Medicaid, food stamps, and a very small EITC.  AFDC provided assistance largely to single mothers during periods of joblessness; if a mother earned too much to qualify, she would lose not only income assistance but also Medicaid.  Medicaid generally covered only parents and their children as well as elderly and disabled people who received cash welfare benefits; the working poor did not qualify.  Far fewer households with children that received food stamps were working.  The EITC did little more than offset some of the payroll taxes that working poor families owed.

Today, the situation is very different.

  • SNAP: The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has more than tripled over the past decade, from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011.  And, among families with children that receive SNAP and include an adult who isn’t elderly or disabled, 87 percent worked in the prior year or will work the following year.
  • EITC and CTC: The EITC and CTC both offset payroll taxes and lift a family of four with a full-time, minimum-wage worker from 61 percent of the federal poverty line to 87 percent, a significant improvement in that family’s economic well-being.  And, by boosting employment among single mothers, the EITC has produced large declines in the receipt of cash welfare assistance (see chart).

  • Medicaid: Most children covered by Medicaid or CHIP are in low-income working families.  Though many working-poor parents are currently ineligible for Medicaid, states that adopt health reform’s Medicaid expansion will be able to provide access to affordable coverage for nearly all of the working poor.

To be sure, not all the changes have been positive.  In fact, the safety net has weakened over time for the very poorest families with children, and poverty remains high, particularly compared to other wealthy nations.  We’ll be back with more about that in a future post.

Click here to read our new paper and here and here for 50-state data on the number of people that public programs lifted out of poverty in 2009-2011.