Poverty Trends: Declining Wages Require Growing Income Supports

Conversations about the War on Poverty often begin with this dispiriting fact: the official U.S. poverty rate is stuck at 15 percent, essentially where it was 50 years ago when the War on Poverty began. Part of the answer can be found in the fact that the official poverty measure has not kept pace with the programs we have created to address it. The more fundamental answer has to do with the decline of wages, particularly at the low end of the labor market. Where once the safety net was designed to assist those who were not expected to work, or who were temporarily out of work, today’s largest safety-net programs do much more by supplementing the wages of low-earning workers, particularly those with children.