Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lyin' Ryan Strikes Again

As Vox's Dylan Matthews reminds us, Rep. Paul Ryan's major problem with social programs and poverty begins with the realization that Ryan (and the GOP and much of the Village) gets the basic fact wrong on poverty.

It doesn't help that the first policy statement he makes is an out-and-out lie:

After a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates. 

This sentence suggests that either Paul Ryan has absolutely no clue how poverty rates work, or he does know and is actively deceiving viewers. First of all, the specific claim in question isn't even technically accurate. The poverty rate was 19 percent in 1964, when the War on Poverty was announced. In 2013, it was 14.5 percent. We do not have the same poverty rates we did then. Ryan is just wrong
But even that dramatically understates the progress that has been made. The official poverty rate is a travesty of a statistic, and using it at all in this context is irresponsible. It's literally based on food prices in 1955. But more relevantly for these purposes, it excludes the very anti-poverty programs Ryan is talking about. It excludes in-kind transfers like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers, as well as tax-based programs like the EITC. Blasting those programs because they don't show up in the poverty rate is like arguing that Netflix shows have zero viewers by pointing to cable ratings. 

And Republicans have been throwing this accusation around for a couple of years now: that the War on Poverty has been a $12 trillion (or $18 trillion or $22 trillion, depending on who is telling the lie) waste of money that hasn't helped anyone in America.

That's just an out and out lie.
A much better metric, which takes anti-poverty programs fully into account and is based on more recent data, is known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure. The SPM factors in government programs, and is based on current data about spending on food and other necessities. It's the poverty rate people like Ryan should be referencing. While the federal government has only been using the SPM for a short while, a group of researchers centered at Columbia — Christopher Wimer, Liana Fox, Irv Garfinkel, Neeraj Kaushal, and Jane Waldfogel — went back and calculated SPM numbers for every year since 1967. To distinguish from the government-issued SPM metric, they call this "anchored SPM." 
The researchers found that anchored SPM (the blue line below) has fallen dramatically in recent decades. But if you take out government programs, you get the green line below, which doesn't fall at all. Poverty — measured accurately, in a way that includes the government programs Ryan is trying to evaluate — fell, and it fell entirely because of government programs

Wimer et al 

"After accounting for taxes and transfers, poverty falls by approximately 40 percent, from 26 percent to 16 percent," write Wimer et al. Absent those programs, poverty actually would have increased slightly.

So yes, we've reduced poverty in this country by a lot.  We still have a long way to go however. And Paul Ryan and the GOP will completely reverse that progress and will add millions more into poverty once they get control of everything.

There is a difference between electing Republicans and Democrats, and fighting poverty versus massive austerity is just one major difference.

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