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Census Bureau Poverty-Calculation Gimmick Overstates the Problem & Prescribes Wasteful Spending

August 22, 2012

In a recent commentary piece the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector explains the US Census Bureau’s ability to distort the reality of poverty, making it appear more severe than it truly is in order to continue expanding the social welfare state at the expense of taxpayers.

According to Rector, a leading expert on poverty and welfare, the Census Bureau does not take into account any of the numerous social welfare programs an individual or family may already be benefiting from when calculating the family’s income for poverty-measurement purposes.

For example, the poverty level cutoff for a family of four in 2011 was approximately $23,000 dollars, meaning that any family earning less than this from wages would automatically be counted towards the overall national poverty rate. What is misleading about this system of calculation is that a family whose earned income is $23,000 could still be benefiting from a variety of welfare programs—food stamps, subsidized housing, Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit to name just a few—thus boosting the family’s effective revenues up above the so-called poverty line by hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually.

The result? The poverty level appears higher than it actually is, giving social welfare enthusiasts the ammunition to call for increasing government spending, while draining taxpayers and racking up massive deficits:

“In other words, government now spends on welfare five times the amount needed to raise all families out of poverty---and is about to spend even more.”

Last year welfare spending for a variety of anti-poverty programs totaled $927 billion dollars, excluding three of the largest social programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance. And if the past 48 years since the “War on Poverty” began in 1964 are any indication of future spending, that number will continue upwards.  

The Census Bureau’s misleading poverty calculations are just another example of the willingness of Washington bureaucrats to use any excuse to leech taxpayers dry in order to fund an ever-growing social welfare state. These findings are even more upsetting in light of the Obama administration’s gutting of Clinton-era welfare reform by executive fiat.

This is another worthy example of spending more than necessary and fixing less than is needed.




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