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

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.

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.