More About Danilo Trisi

Danilo Trisi

Trisi joined the Center in January 2007. He’s a Senior Research Analyst in the Family Income Support Division. He works on issues related to poverty, income inequality, and the effectiveness of the safety net.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at CBPP.org


SNAP and the Fight Against Extreme Poverty

November 18, 2013 at 2:21 pm

“Food stamp recipients already took a cut in benefits this month, and they may face more [cuts]” as Congress considers slashing program funding, Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column points out.  Kristof focuses on the potential impact on children, many of whom the program — now called SNAP — lifts out of extreme poverty, and his column is well worth a look.

As I explained earlier this year, the number of households with children living on $2 or less per person per day — which is one definition of poverty the World Bank uses for developing nations — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, to 1.6 million, according to research by the University of Michigan’s H. Luke Shaefer and Harvard University’s Kathryn Edin.

Counting SNAP benefits as income cuts the number of households with children in extreme poverty in 2011 by 48 percent, from 1.6 million to 857,000 (see graph).

SNAP also cut, by roughly half, the rise in extreme poverty among households with children between 1996 and 2011, the study found.

One reason SNAP is so effective against extreme poverty is that it focuses its benefits on many of the poorest households.  Roughly 91 percent of monthly SNAP benefits go to households below the poverty line, and 55 percent go to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,800 for a family of three).  One in five SNAP households lives on cash income of less than $2 per person a day.

Policymakers considering more SNAP cuts should keep in mind that the program keeps more households with children out of extreme poverty than any other government program.

SNAP and Unemployment Insurance Kept Millions Out of Poverty Last Year, Census Supplemental Poverty Measure Shows

November 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) — two programs facing deep cuts — lifted millions of people above the poverty line in 2012, according to a CBPP analysis of Census Bureau data released today (see chart).

Our analysis using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for taxes and non-cash government benefits, shows that all public programs lifted 41 million people out of poverty in 2012, including almost 9 million children.  (Like the SPM poverty rate, these numbers are little changed from 2011.)

These findings come as Congress considers the future of both SNAP and UI — and they show the critical role that both programs play in reducing financial hardship.

SNAP’s food assistance benefits kept 4.9 million people above the SPM poverty line, including 2.2 million children. Today’s analysis also showed that SNAP is particularly effective at keeping children out of the deepest or most severe poverty:  in 2012, SNAP lifted more children — 1.4 million — above half of the poverty line than any other program.  Despite this track record, both the House and Senate have passed legislation to cut SNAP, and a House-Senate conference committee is currently negotiating a final bill.  These cuts would make things harder for tens of millions of Americans who already struggle to put food on their tables — and they’d come on top of a cut in SNAP benefits that began last Friday for all 48 million SNAP recipients as a temporary boost to the program ended.

UI kept 2.5 million people, including 600,000 children, above the SPM poverty line in 2012. But, federal long-term UI benefits provided through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will disappear at the end of December, unless Congress acts to keep it running.  This UI cut would come on top of UI reductions that have already occurred since 2010 — cuts that have already weakened the program’s effectiveness in fighting poverty, as we’ve explained.  In fact, the new SPM data show that the number of people that UI kept out of poverty has fallen by half (48 percent) since 2010 — far more than the 16 percent drop in the number of unemployed workers.  Letting Emergency Unemployment Compensation expire at the end of the December would further slow the recovery and cause hardship for workers still struggling to find jobs.

We’ll be back with more SPM findings later today.

Income Inequality Remains at Record High, New Census Figures Show

September 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm

The shares of the nation’s income going to each of the bottom 60 percent of households in 2012 remained at 2011’s record low levels in data that go back to 1967, today’s Census Bureau report shows.  The share going to the top 20 percent was statistically unchanged at last year’s record highs (see graph).

The bottom 20 percent of households received just 3.2 percent of all household income in 2012, and the middle fifth received only 14.4 percent.  Meanwhile, the top 20 percent of households got 51 percent, and the top 5 percent of households garnered 22.3 percent.

A recent study suggests that the income inequality trends that Census reported today may underestimate how much inequality is growing, because of gaps in how Census collects and reports data, especially its omission of substantial income going to top earners.  Using preliminary tax data, which is more accurate for the highest-income households, economist Emmanuel Saez finds that the share of the nation’s total income going to the top 10 percent of households rose in 2012 to its highest level on record, with data available back to 1917.

Saez finds that the average incomes of the top 1 percent rose sharply in 2012 — by 19.6 percent — while the incomes of the other 99 percent grew by just 1 percent.  This means that, on average, the income of the top 1 percent grew by more than $200,000 — about four times as much as the total income of the median household in 2012.

The disparity in incomes is even larger when the highest-income households are considered, Saez reports.  The incomes of households in the top one-tenth of 1 percent rose by an average of nearly $1.4 million in 2012, or 27 times median household income.

New Research Shows SNAP, Facing Big Cuts in the House, Reduces Extreme Poverty

June 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

Even as the House prepares this week to cut SNAP (formerly food stamps) by $21 billion and push 2 million low-income people off the program, new research shows that SNAP is the most effective program pushing against the steep rise in extreme poverty.

The number of households with children living on $2 or less per person per day — one definition of poverty the World Bank uses for developing nations — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, to 1.6 million, according to research by the University of Michigan’s H. Luke Shaefer and Harvard University’s Kathryn Edin.

While these findings are troubling, the authors also show that SNAP kept more households with children out of extreme poverty than any other government program.

Counting SNAP benefits as income cuts the number of households with children in extreme poverty in 2011 by 48 percent, from 1.6 million to 857,000 (see graph).

SNAP also cut, by roughly half, the rise in extreme poverty among households with children between 1996 and 2011, the study found.

The study provides strong evidence that one of the main drivers of rising extreme poverty was the decline in cash assistance since the 1996 welfare reform.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cut extreme poverty significantly in 1996, the study found, but Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) — which replaced AFDC after 1996 and reaches many fewer needy families — had a much smaller impact in 2011.

For many of the poorest Americans, SNAP has become the only form of income assistance they receive.

One reason SNAP is so effective in fighting extreme poverty is that it focuses its benefits on many of the poorest households.  Roughly 91 percent of monthly SNAP benefits go to households below the poverty line, and 55 percent go to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,800 for a family of three).  One in five SNAP households lives on cash income of less than $2 per person a day.

The farm bill before the House would move SNAP in the wrong direction by cutting or eliminating food assistance to large numbers of low-income families.

The Myth That Single Mothers Don’t Work

October 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm

For several decades, policy debates about cash assistance for very low-income families have focused almost exclusively on work requirements:  what work activities should welfare recipients have to perform, and for how many hours, to remain eligible?  These work requirements, in turn, are rooted in a basic assumption:  that mothers who have never been married and who have a high school education or less — a high-poverty group that comprises the majority of cash assistance recipients — are much less likely to work than others with comparable levels of education.

That assumption is wrong — and it’s been wrong for the last decade.  Among women with a high school education or less, never-married mothers are just as likely to work as single women without children and more likely to work than married women with children.  (See graph.)

The share of never-married mothers who worked jumped from 51 percent in 1992 to 76 percent in 2000, eliminating a 25 percentage-point gap between their employment rate and that of single women without children.

This sharp improvement reflected a combination of factors, including a very strong labor market (with unemployment as low as 4 percent), expansions in work supports such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child care assistance, and welfare reform.

A highly regarded study by University of Chicago economist Jeffrey Grogger found that the EITC (which policymakers expanded in 1990 and 1993) accounted for about 34 percent of the increase, the strong economy accounted for about 21 percent, and welfare reform accounted for about 13 percent.

Since 2000, the employment rate has fallen considerably among never-married mothers.  But it’s also dropped among other women with limited education, which suggests that the causes are the economy and low education levels — not the availability of public benefits or anything particular to single mothers.

The recession hit people with a high school education or less especially hard and they are still losing ground, according to a recent report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  Women with a high school education or less lost 2 million jobs during the recession and an additional 600,000 jobs since the recovery started.

These job losses, combined with low wages in available jobs, meant that 59 percent of never-married mothers with a high school education or less lived below the poverty line in 2011.  Moreover, cash benefit levels are lower, and benefits are harder to get, than ever.  (Indeed, that has driven an increase in deep poverty for jobless single mothers.)

These findings suggest that if we want more single mothers with limited education to work, simply reducing welfare benefits or tightening work requirements won’t likely succeed.  Instead, we need to help them compete for jobs in a period when there are three times as many job seekers as job openings — or provide jobs when jobs are not available.  Possibilities include:

  • Subsidized jobs. During the recession, states placed about 260,000 unemployed low-income parents and young adults in subsidized jobs — but Congress allowed the federal funding that supported these programs to expire.  Transforming TANF’s Contingency Fund, which is supposed to help states respond to periods of economic distress but is poorly designed, into a Subsidized Employment Fund would be a good step towards helping unemployed single mothers find jobs.
  • More access to education and training to build marketable skills. The TANF work requirements discourage participation in education and training.  Policymakers should eliminate these constraints.  All individuals, regardless of whether they are on welfare, should be encouraged to complete high school or earn a GED or to attend industry-based or community college programs to earn a credential that will help them qualify for better-paying, more stable jobs.
  • More funding for child care. Child care is essential for single mothers — many of whom have young children — to succeed in the labor market.  Yet, funding for child care and early education for low-income families is inadequate.  The Child Care and Development Block Grant serves only one in six children eligible for help under federal rules, for example, and Head Start serves only 40 percent of eligible preschoolers.