Drum on Drum on Sanders on Welfare Reform

I have the impression that this new post by Kevin Drum is a response to objections to his earlier post made, among other places, here at angrybearblog. I get the impression that I wasn’t one of many who made the same objection.

In any case it is a big improvement. Also I learned stuff I should have known already from it.

I think it is very worth reading and advise you to click the link.

update: Kevin Drum has yet more on the topic here.

Following Drum (and snipping from his blog) I will comment on a figure from “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer.


Drum commented

The green line is the one to pay attention to if you want to know the comprehensive effect of all changes to the social welfare system over the past couple of decades. And what it shows is that the percentage of households with children in extreme poverty increased from about 1 percent to 1.5 percent. That represents an increase of fewer than 500,000 households.

In other words, if we simply handed over $10,000 to every household with children in extreme poverty, it would cost only about $15 billion. Given that we spend about $1 trillion annually on social welfare benefits, this is peanuts. It’s not money that prevents us from addressing deep poverty, it’s political preference. Welfare reform was very deliberately crafted to reduce payments to people who don’t work, and one of the effects of that is a small increase in extreme poverty.

Now I don’t consider a 50% increase a small increase.

At his blog I commented again.

I think this post is a mostly satisfactory response to my criticism of your earlier post.

I certainly agree with your current theory of Sanders- that he “doesn’t really want to dive into this because he knows it’s a big hot button.” I’d add your earlier point that a lot of working class whites hate welfare. I am sure that it would be unwise for any egalitarian to discuss welfare reform during a campaign.

On the other hand, I have two criticisms of your current relevant graph (which is a huge improvement over the graph in the earlier post).

First somewhat 500,000 US families with children living on less than $2 a day *including SNAP* is not a small problem. They include over a million people.

But second, the inclusion of SNAP makes a huge difference. I have argued against looking at the poverty rate and welfare reform because AFDC and TANF benefits don’t get families over the line. But once you include SNAP it is very hard to not get over $2 a day each (as the graph shows).

Finally your point that the money needed to eliminate severe poverty is tiny compared to total social welfare spending is my point (I stressed it). Similarly each of us has repeatedly written things to the effect that “It’s not money that prevents us from addressing deep poverty, it’s political preference.” I did most recently yesterday in my comment here there posted here and also in this different more pointless post here

However, income including SNAP and section 8 housing vouchers under the poverty line implies grim poverty. It is a level which was introduced in the 50s (before SNAP and section 8) as a level below which no one should have to be. I’d be interested in a graph of the fraction of households whose income including SNAP and section 8 is under the poverty line. I don’t have the micro data, but I will google.

The point is a single point in the distribution (poverty line without SNAP or $2 each a day with SNAP) can be highly misleading. The narrowing gap between the red and blue curves shows a huge proportional change due to welfare reform. I think if the line was moved from income including SNAP less than $2 each a day to income including snap less than $2 a day plus maximum SNAP benefits, then a similarly huge proportional change would be observed. I think $2 a day plus maximum SNAP is a reasonable definition of severe poverty.