Senior Director and Senior Fellow
Last week, we highlighted our analysis of the Census Bureau’s new poverty data, in which we found that unemployment benefits kept many Americans out of poverty and economic hardship in 2009. Food stamps helped, too. In fact, the increase in the number of Americans with income below the poverty line is nearly three times as great if you don’t count unemployment benefits and food stamps as if you do.
Why did these programs have such a large impact? For one thing, the 2009 Recovery temporarily expanded food stamp benefits and unemployment insurance. For another, the sharp increase in unemployment during the recession made many more people eligible for these programs.
I’m not suggesting that merely adding food stamps to the current poverty definition would produce the ideal measure of poverty. For instance, child care costs and other work expenses also affect families’ ability to meet basic needs. But these figures do give you a sense of how hard government was pushing back against a rising wave of economic hardship in 2009. As it happens, it was pushing back pretty hard.