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


Safety Net Cut Poverty Nearly in Half Last Year, New Census Data Show

October 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Safety net programs cut the poverty rate nearly in half in 2013, our analysis of Census data released today finds, lifting 39 million people — including more than 8 million children — out of poverty.  The data highlight the effectiveness of cash assistance such as Social Security, non-cash benefits such as rent subsidies and SNAP (formerly food stamps), and tax credits for working families like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  They also rebut claims, based on poverty statistics that omit non-cash and tax-based safety net programs, that these programs do little to reduce poverty.

Accounting for government assistance programs and taxes cuts the poverty rate for 2013 from 28.1 percent to 15.5 percent, we found (see chart).  These figures are based on Census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which — unlike the official poverty measure — accounts for taxes and non-cash benefits as well as cash income.  (The SPM also makes other adjustments, such as taking into account out-of-pocket medical and work expenses and differences in living costs across the country.)

Safety net programs cut the poverty rate for children from 27.5 percent to 16.4 percent, we found.

Because the SPM includes taxes and non-cash benefits, it gives a more accurate picture of the impact of anti-poverty programs than the official poverty measure, which counts only cash income.  Non-cash and tax-based benefits now constitute a much larger part of the safety net than 50 years ago, so the official poverty measure’s exclusion of them masks the nation’s progress in reducing poverty over the last five decades.

Nevertheless, some policymakers and pundits have used comparisons based on the official poverty measure to argue that federal anti-poverty programs are ineffective.  As Senator Orrin Hatch, the Finance Committee’s ranking Republican, put it last week, “For 50 years we’ve spent trillions of dollars on massive federal welfare programs that have largely failed.  The poverty rate has remained essentially unchanged since 1967.”  House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has made similar statements.

Comparing poverty rates in the 1960s and today using the official measure, which doesn’t count programs like SNAP, the EITC, and rental vouchers, implies that those programs — all of which were small or nonexistent in the 1960s — do nothing to reduce poverty, which clearly is not the case.  Columbia University researchers using an SPM-like measure (and adjusting the poverty line for inflation) found that the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012 if one includes this assistance.  Today’s Census figures provide further evidence of the safety net’s strong anti-poverty impact.

Tomorrow’s Poverty Numbers Will Help Measure Strength of Safety Net

October 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

The Census Bureau will release poverty statistics tomorrow that will allow us to determine how well the safety net reduced poverty in 2013.  Our analysis of figures released last year showed that the safety net cut the poverty rate nearly in half in 2012, from 29.1 percent to 16.0 percent (see graph).

Tomorrow’s figures are based on Census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes not only cash income but also non-cash benefits such as food assistance and rental subsidies as well as tax-based assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.  The official poverty measure counts only cash income.  (Census released 2013 figures using the official measure in September; here’s our analysis.)

We’ll update this chart tomorrow with the 2013 numbers.  We’ll also examine the antipoverty impact of individual programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), working-family tax credits, and rent subsidies.

 

Income Inequality Remains at Historic High, Census Data Show

September 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Income inequality remained near a record high in 2013 by several measures the Census Bureau released earlier this week, with data going back to 1967.

The principal Census summary measure of household income inequality, known as the “Gini coefficient,” was not statistically different from the record high in 2012.  And the share of national income that goes to the top fifth of households was 51.0 percent, not statistically different from its record high of 51.1 percent in 2011.  The share of the nation’s income going to the top 20 percent has been growing for decades, but it only recently surpassed 50 percent.  That means the top 20 percent of households receive more of the nation’s income than the bottom 80 percent combined (see chart).

The Census figures provide an incomplete look at pre-tax income inequality — for example, they don’t include capital gains (a major income source for the affluent) and don’t ask about earnings above $1.1 million, while also leaving out key income sources for the poor such as government food assistance, rent subsidies, and tax credits.

Still, the trend of high and rising inequality that the new data show is consistent with other recent studies.  For example, a recent Federal Reserve study finds evidence of growing income concentration between 2010 and 2013.  “Only families at the very top of the income distribution saw widespread income gains between 2010 and 2013,” the study found, as incomes grew for the nation as a whole but fell for middle- and lower-income households.  (Unlike the Census data, the Fed’s survey includes capital gains and SNAP — formerly food stamp — benefits.)

Preliminary tax-return data through 2012, as analyzed by economist Emmanuel Saez, provide further evidence about widening inequality in recent years.  Saez found that from 2009 to 2012, average pre-tax income of the top 1 percent of households rose 31 percent — or by about $300,000 per household — but rose by just 0.4 percent (an average of about $170) for the other 99 percent of households.  (These figures do not include government benefits and, thus, provide a picture of economic inequality before tax and transfer policies.)  The top 1 percent received 95 percent of the nation’s total rise in pre-tax income during this period, Saez found.

Tomorrow’s Poverty Data Will Give Only Partial Picture

September 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

As our preview of tomorrow’s Census release of 2013 poverty data explains, the official poverty statistics are based on pre-tax cash income, so they omit support like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and rental subsidies, as well as tax-based assistance like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  Later this year Census will release 2013 figures using an alternative poverty measure —the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) — that includes these benefits.  Columbia University researchers recently estimated a version of the SPM called the “anchored” SPM for 1967 through 2012, and this measure tells a somewhat less dreary story about poverty trends over the last decade than the official measure.

The official poverty rate rose from 11.3 percent to 12.5 percent between 2000 and 2007, in part due to widening income gaps and poorly shared economic growth, then leapt to 15 percent by 2012 due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery.  Under the SPM, in contrast, poverty remained essentially flat from 2000 to 2007 and rose only about halfas much as under the official measure — 1.3 percentage points, versus 2.5 percentage points — through 2012 (see graph).

The better performance under the SPM largely reflects the powerful role of SNAP and refundable tax credits like the EITC — as strengthened by policymakers both early in the decade and through largely temporary measures in the Great Recession — which helped keep more Americans from falling into poverty as the recession deepened.

In 2013, the SPM will continue to capture policy changes left out of the official measure.

In short, tomorrow’s figures on the official poverty rate will give a real but incomplete picture of poverty and anti-poverty policies.

Our chart book on the War on Poverty has more on these issues, including

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.