Poverty in the U.S. has been reduced significantly by social safety net programs, but ethnic and racial disparities persist, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report published January 28.
Poverty among white U.S. residents dropped from 18% (1970) to 10% (2017), with poverty among Blacks dropping from 46% to 21% and among Latinos from 47% to 20% over the same period.
Without government assistance, white poverty levels in 2017 would have been around 22%, Black poverty around 37% and Latino poverty around 32%.
CBPP uses the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) to assess poverty rates, which includes data from government assistance programs that are not included in the official poverty measure calculations used in the poverty reports created by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The report covers 1970 to 2017 because that is the range for which SPM is available for white, Black and Latino residents. Data for other racial and ethnic groups was not available for this entire period of time, so it was not included in the report.
In 2017, 13.9% of the U.S. population was living in poverty based on the SPM rates. This was 1.6% higher than the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty rate. For two adults and two children renting their living space, the 2017 SPM poverty threshold was $27,005.
Social safety net programs reduced the total number of people living in poverty to 39 million in 2017, CBPP’s data analysis found. Without social safety net programs, 83 million would have been impoverished.
These safety net programs reduced child poverty by similar amounts. Without such measures, the poverty rates in 2017 would have been 16%, 42% and 36%, respectively. Reductions in the child poverty rate from 1970 to 2017 were significant – dropping from 20% to 10% among white children, from 53% to 21% among Black children and 56% to 20% among Latino children.
“Despite this progress, past and present discrimination in both private markets and public policies left poverty rates in 2017 more than twice as high among Black (20.9%) and Latino (20.1%) people than among white people (9.8%),” the report said. “Child poverty reflected the same dynamic, with Black and Latino child poverty rates at 21.3 and 20.4%, respectively, compared to 8.3% among white children.”
Across the past four-and-a-half decades, people of color have been far more likely to live below the SPM poverty line than whites. This is the result of systemic racial inequality, injustice and bias in housing, education and criminal justice that placed barriers to economic advancement on people of color.
Poverty disparities based on race and ethnicity will likely increase in the near future, as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted people of color who hold a disproportionate number of jobs in lower-paying industries. Job losses in these industries were nearly twice as high as those in medium-wage industries and four times as high as those in high-wage industries.
“Lasting progress in reducing poverty and the gaping racial and ethnic disparities in economic security and opportunity will require more than just recovering from the current crisis,” the report said. “Achieving these goals will require policies that provide more help to households struggling to afford the basics and that tackle head on the differences in education, housing, employment opportunities, and health care available across lines of race, ethnicity, immigration status, income, and place of residence.”
The full report is available here.