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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession

  • Marianne Bitler
  • Hilary Hoynes

Much attention has been given to the large increase in safety net spending, particularly in Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamp spending, during the Great Recession. In this paper we examine the relationship between poverty, the social safety net, and business cycles historically and test whether there has been a significant change in this relationship during the Great Recession. We do so using an alternative measure of poverty that incorporates taxes and in-kind transfers. We explore the mediating role played by four core safety net programs--Food Stamps, cash welfare (AFDC/TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Unemployment Insurance--in buffering families from negative economic shocks. This analysis yields several important findings. Our most robust and important finding is the safety net is doing less to provide protection for the most disadvantaged. In the post-welfare reform world, TANF did not respond in the Great Recession and extreme poverty is more cyclical than in prior recessions. On the other hand, Food Stamps and UI are providing more protection-or at least providing no less protection-in the Great Recession, although these results are less robust across our different models. These programs are more likely to affect households somewhat higher up the income distribution; we find some evidence of a reduction in cyclicality at 100% poverty and little evidence about this at higher income-to-poverty levels.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19449.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19449.

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Date of creation: Sep 2013
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Publication status: published as The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession , Marianne Bitler, Hilary Hoynes. in Labor Markets in the Aftermath of the Great Recession , Card and Mas. 2016
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19449
Note: CH LS PE
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  1. Marianne P. Bitler & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2010. "The State of Social Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 41(2 (Fall)), pages 71-147.
  2. James P. Ziliak & Craig Gundersen & David N. Figlio, 2003. "Food Stamp Caseloads over the Business Cycle," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 69(4), pages 903-919, April.
  3. Rebecca M. Blank, 1997. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," NBER Working Papers 6343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Hilary W. Hoynes & Diane Schanzenbach, 2007. "Consumption Responses to In-Kind Transfers: Evidence from the Introduction of the Food Stamp Program," NBER Working Papers 13025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Rebecca M. Blank, 1987. "Disaggregating the Effect of the Business Cycle on the Distribution of Income," NBER Working Papers 2397, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  9. Marianne Bitler & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2010. "The State of the Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era," NBER Working Papers 16504, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Dan Black & Kermit Daniel & Seth Sanders, 2002. "The Impact of Economic Conditions on Participation in Disability Programs: Evidence from the Coal Boom and Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 27-50, March.
  11. Andreas I. Mueller & Jesse Rothstein & Till M. von Wachter, 2016. "Unemployment Insurance and Disability Insurance in the Great Recession," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(S1), pages S445 - S475.
  12. James P. Ziliak & David N. Figlio & Elizabeth E. Davis & Laura S. Connolly, 2000. "Accounting for the Decline in AFDC Caseloads: Welfare Reform or the Economy?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(3), pages 570-586.
  13. Stephan Lindner & Austin Nichols, 2012. "The Impact of Temporary Assistance Programs on Disability Rolls and Re-Employment," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2012-2, Center for Retirement Research, revised Jan 2012.
  14. Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences," Working Papers 0903, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
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  17. Thomas M. Fraker & Alberto P. Martini & James C. Ohls & Michael Ponza & Elizabeth A. Quinn, 1992. "The Evaluation of the Alabama Food Stamp Cash-Out Demonstration Vol. 1: Recipient Impacts," Mathematica Policy Research Reports bc4fe28e4d704a8a84e7adf0b, Mathematica Policy Research.
  18. Richard B. Freeman, 2001. "The Rising Tide Lifts...?," NBER Working Papers 8155, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  23. Moffitt, Robert, 1983. "An Economic Model of Welfare Stigma," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1023-35, December.
  24. Mulligan, Casey B., 2012. "The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199942213, December.
  25. Craig Gundersen & James Ziliak, 2004. "Poverty and macroeconomic performance across space, race, and family structure," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(1), pages 61-86, February.
  26. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
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