Poverty scholars have historically relied on the official poverty measure to evaluate US anti-poverty policies. But the official poverty measure is severely flawed because it discounts many government payments to poor families, such as food assistance and refundable tax credits, which have increased in size dramatically in recent years. As a result, when scholars look to the official poverty measure they fail to recognize the large and sustained declines in poverty that have materialized in this country, most notably after policy reforms in the 1990s.
The Supplemental Poverty Measure — which accounts for government benefits — presents a very different story. In fact, the often-cited National Academies of Science Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty found dramatic poverty reductions between the early 1990s and 2016 when using the Supplemental Poverty Measure. Economists Bruce Meyer (an AEI vising scholar) and James Sullivan found similar trends using a consumption-based poverty measure.