NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Winning the War: Poverty from the Great Society to the Great Recession

Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan

NBER Working Paper No. 18718
Issued in January 2013
NBER Program(s):   AG   CH   DAE   EFG   LS   PE

This paper considers the long-run patterns of poverty in the United States from the early 1960s to 2010. Our results contradict previous studies that have argued that poverty has shown little improvement over time or that anti-poverty efforts have been ineffective. We find that moving from traditional income-based measures of poverty to a consumption-based measure (which we argue is superior on both theoretical and practical grounds) and, crucially, adjusting for bias in price indices leads to the conclusion that the poverty rate declined by 26.4 percentage points between 1960 and 2010, with 8.5 percentage points of that decline occurring since 1980. Consumption poverty suggests considerably greater improvement than income poverty for single parent families and the aged, but relatively less improvement for married parent families. Our analyses of the proximate causes of these patterns indicate that changes in tax policy explain a substantial part of the decline in poverty and that social security has been important, but that the roles of other transfer programs have been small. Changes in education have contributed to the decline, while other demographic trends have played a small role. Measurement error in income is likely to explain some of the most noticeable differences between changes in income and consumption poverty, but saving and dissaving do not appear to play a large role for most demographic groups.

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the July 2013 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

A data appendix is available at http://www.nber.org/data-appendix/w18718

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18718

Published: Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2012. "Winning the War: Poverty from the Great Society to the Great Recession," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 45(2 (Fall)), pages 133-200. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Meyer and Sullivan w14827 Five Decades of Consumption and Income Poverty
Anderson w18757 Subways, Strikes, and Slowdowns: The Impacts of Public Transit on Traffic Congestion
Knittel and Sandler w18849 The Welfare Impact of Indirect Pigouvian Taxation: Evidence from Transportation
Glaeser w18825 A Nation Of Gamblers: Real Estate Speculation And American History
Blau and Kahn w18702 Female Labor Supply: Why is the US Falling Behind?
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us