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5 Public Programs That Lift Millions of Women and Children Out of Poverty

In 2012, Social Security kept 12.1 million women and 1 million children out of poverty.

This new statistic can be calculated based on data released today by the Census Bureau. Also part of the release of new data is a report on the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) which takes into account the impact of public programs, as well as medical out-of-pocket and other expenses on families’ economic security. For more about poverty measurement, see our FAQ.

This past September, the Census Bureau released the official poverty numbers for 2012, which showed that women’s poverty remained historically high, with 17.8 million women (14.5 percent) in poverty. Our report detailed what the numbers looked like and the trends over time. But what we didn’t get to see in that data was how many people’s incomes were pulled above the poverty line by specific public programs, some of which are counted in the official poverty measure and some of which aren’t. Today, we can delve deeper into how many people were lifted out of poverty by these programs and who they were.

Here are five effective programs that lifted families’ incomes above the official poverty line in 2012:

1. Social Security lifted nearly 22.2 million people out of poverty in 2012:
  • Nearly 15.3 million people 65 and older, including 9.0 million older women;
  • Almost 5.9 million adults 18-64, including more than 3.1 million women; and
  • 1.0 million children.
2. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps low- and moderate-income working families, lifted the incomes of almost 5.5 million people above the poverty line:
  • More than 2.5 million adults 18 and older, including over 1.5 million women; and
  • Nearly 3 million children.
3. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) lifted the incomes of nearly 4 million people above the poverty line:
  • 335,000 people 65 and older, including 223,000 women;
  • Nearly 2.0 million adults 18-64, including over 1.1 million women; and
  • Over 1.6 million children.
4. Unemployment Insurance kept more than 1.7 million people from falling into poverty in 2012.
  • This included 655,000 women 18 and older and 446,000 children.
5. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) lifted over 1.9 million people out of poverty:
  • 316,000 people 65 and older, including 218,000 women;
  • Nearly 1.3 million adults 18-64, including 651,000 women; and
  • 327,000 children.

5 Public Programs That Lift Millions of Women and Children Out of Poverty

These essential programs are under siege. Congress is currently deciding the future of these programs in the budget conference committee that came out of October’s government shutdown. The FY 2014 Senate Budget, originally passed by the Senate in March 2013, protects programs like SNAP, Social Security, and the EITC, but it needs to be reconciled with the FY 2014 House Budget, which threatens cuts to these programs. SNAP and UI are on the chopping blog through other legislative channels as well. SNAP benefits were cut for all participants when the Recovery Act’s SNAP boost expired on November 1st, and in September the House passed an additional $40 billion in SNAP cuts, which are being considered alongside smaller cuts passed by the Senate as a House-Senate conference committee attempts to reach agreement on a final Farm bill. Federal emergency UI benefits were slashed by the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester –and without reauthorization from Congress, these benefits will expire at the end of 2013, eliminating federal jobless benefits for 1.3 million unemployed workers and their families who currently benefit from the program.

The numbers in this post prove that programs for low-income families work and move millions of women and children above the poverty line. Programs like Social Security, the EITC, SNAP, Unemployment Insurance, and SSI need to be protected and strengthened, not cut further.

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