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Social Policy and U.S. Poverty 1960-1999: An Economic History


  • Jaynes, Gerald D.

    (Yale University)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Jaynes, Gerald D., 2011. "Social Policy and U.S. Poverty 1960-1999: An Economic History," Working Papers 90, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:yaleco:90

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sawhill, Isabel V, 1988. "Poverty in the U.S.: Why Is It So Persistent?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 1073-1119, September.
    2. Rebecca M. Blank, 1991. "Why Were Poverty Rates So High in the 1980s?," NBER Working Papers 3878, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jäntti, Markus & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2001. "Examining the Impact of Macro-Economic Conditions on Income Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 364, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Rebecca M. Blank & Alan S. Blinder, 1985. "Macroeconomics, Income Distribution, and Poverty," NBER Working Papers 1567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Sen, Amartya, 1997. "On Economic Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198292975, June.
    6. Danziger, Sheldon & Gottschalk, Peter, 1986. "Do Rising Tides Lift All Boats? The Impact of Secular and Cyclical Changes on Poverty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 405-410, May.
    7. David M. Cutler & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "Macroeconomic Performance and the Disadvantaged," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(2), pages 1-74.
    8. Elizabeth T. Powers, 1995. "Growth and poverty revisited," Economic Commentary, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue Apr.
    9. Thornton, James R & Agnello, Richard J & Link, Charles R, 1978. "Poverty and Economic Growth: Trickle Down Peters Out," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 16(3), pages 385-394, July.
    10. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-442, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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