Social Policy and U.S. Poverty 1960-1999: An Economic History
Interrogates poverty debate (growth versus redistribution) reignited by underperforming poverty reductions during 1980s' social spending austerity compared to 1960s' "War on Poverty." Growth and inequality explain 75% 1959-1999 poverty variation; census measurement changes 17%. Significantly, census measurement changes plus overestimated inflation biased-up 1980s measured poverty (deflated 1960s) partly explaining eighties' underperformance. Growth's poverty effect remained constant; rising inequality required 1980's growth 50% higher (1960s) for equivalent poverty reductions. Counterfactual simulations 1959-1999: absent rising earnings inequality, growth drives poverty to 5.4%; increased workerless households offset two-thirds poverty reduction from cash transfers; had Carter and Reagan redistributed like predecessors, poverty reduced one-half.
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