Aid to the Poorest of the Poor is Shrinking

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Families getting assistance at New York food bank (photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

American policymakers seem to have a selective approach when it comes to helping the poor in society, with the amount of aid growing for some and shrinking for others. For the lowest of low-income, the government has slashed benefits.


Robert A. Moffitt, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, says assistance to the poor has gone up overall since the 1980s. Those who have received higher levels of support since have included the working poor, the disabled and married couples with children. For instance, public assistance for families living just above the poverty line nearly doubled from 1983 to 2004 after taking inflation into account, according to The New York Times.


Meanwhile, benefits for those with the lowest levels of income, such as unemployed single mothers with children, have been reduced by about 30%. Many of these cuts went into effect as part of President Bill Clinton’s effort to “end welfare as we know it” in the 1990s.


“Most observers would think that the government should support those who have the lowest incomes the most, and provide less help to those with higher incomes,” Moffitt wrote in his paper, which will be published by the journal Demography. “But that is not the case.”


He said there has been an “emphasis on rewarding workers and people like the elderly or disabled who are considered ‘the deserving poor.’” But for others at the bottom of society, the assumption is: “If you’re not working, the interpretation is that you’re not trying.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America (by Patricia Cohen, New York Times)

The Deserving Poor, the Family, and the U.S. Welfare System (by Robert A. Moffitt,

Johns Hopkins University) (pdf)

Poorest Patients Sued by Some Non-Profit Hospitals (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Richest 7% Get Richer; Poorest 93% Get Poorer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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