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5 Public Programs That Lift Millions of Women Out of Poverty

Did you know that in 2011, Social Security kept 11.7 million women and 1.1 million children out of poverty?

This is just one new fact that we can calculate today thanks to the release of new Census Bureau data that examines a supplemental poverty measure which takes into account the impact of public programs on families' economic security. For more about poverty measurement, see our FAQ.

This past September, the Census Bureau released the official poverty numbers for 2011, which showed that women's poverty remained high after the recession's end, but was beginning to stabilize in 2011. 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 were pulled above the poverty line by specific public programs. Today, we were able to take a closer look at 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 2011:

  1. Social Security lifted over 21.4 million people out of poverty in 2011:
    • Almost 14.5 million people 65 and older, including 8.7 million women;
    • More than 5.8 million adults 18-64, including more than 3.0 million women; and
    • 1.1 million children.
  2. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps  low- and moderate-income working families, lifted the incomes of almost 5.7 million people above the poverty line:
    • More than 2.6 million adults 18 and older, including almost 1.6 million women; and
    • Almost 3.1 million children.
  3. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) lifted the incomes of almost 3.9 million people above the poverty line:
    • 327,000 people 65 and older, including 213,000 women;
    • Almost 1.9 million adults 18-64, including 1.1 million women; and
    • 1.7 million children.
  4. Unemployment Insurance kept 2.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2011. This is due in large part to federally funded benefits to help long-term jobless workers.
    • This included 833,000 women 18 and older and 621,000 children.
  5. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) lifted more than 2.0 million people out of poverty:
    • 368,000 people 65 and older, including 245,000 women;
    • Over 1.3 million adults 18-64, including 682,000 women; and
    • 311,000 children.

In the next few months Congress is going to be facing a number of critical choices. Will Congress start making the richest two percent pay their fair share of taxes — or will it cut programs that women and their families depend on? We can't allow stealth cuts to Social Security or let Congress end the 2009 improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. SNAP helps families put healthy food on the table in tough times and cuts would hamper the abilities of families to meet their most basic needs. As we continue to see record numbers of long-term unemployed workers, 2 million workers and their families can't afford to lose Unemployment Insurance benefits at the end of December. And, the stealth benefit cut that threatens Social Security would cut SSI benefits even more deeply.

These programs work — and we can't allow Congress to cut the programs that lift women and their families out of poverty.

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Poverty/Extreme Poverty

While SSI/SSDI, EITC, SNAP and unemployment insurance are definitely much needed programs, I think it is misleading to say that they help to lift people out of poverty. They can, and do, lift people out of EXTREME poverty but if you're familiar with the federal poverty levels then you know that those levels are extremely low.
I utilized EITC and SNAP while raising my two kids as a single parent. Those programs kept me from extreme poverty, but we were definitely still living in poverty!
More recently, unemployment insurance, while it lasted, kept me from becoming homeless - but not out of poverty.
I've had many clients (when I was employed) who received SSI benefits - and all of them were dealing with extreme poverty. The majority of the people that I see at the local mental health drop in center have SSI and SNAP, and still live in extreme poverty.
I don't want to see ANY of these programs suffer from cuts because, after all, poverty is an improvement over the extreme. But I would also like to see more emphasis put on education as a path out of poverty and on creating a program that makes collection of unpaid child support a priority.

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