Poverty in America: Is Welfare the Answer or the Problem?
NBER Working Paper No. 1711
This paper reviews the current policies for fighting poverty and explores the impact they have had. We begin by reviewing trends in poverty, poverty spending and economic performance. It is immediately apparent that economic performance is the dominant determinant of the measured poverty rate over the past two decades. Government assistance programs expanded greatly over this period, but the growth in cash assistance was too modest to have major effects, and the large growth in in-kind benefits could not reduce measured poverty since such benefits are not counted as income. Next we focus on three groups: the disabled, female family heads, and unemployed black youth. We find little evidence that government deserves the blame for the problems of each group, and suggest that the broad outlines of current policies are defensible on economic grounds.
Published: Ellwood, David T. and Lawrence H. Summers. "Poverty in America: Is Welfare the Answer or the Problem?" in Fighting Poverty: What Works and What Doesn't, eds. S.Bazinger and D. Wienberg, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 78-105