I survey recent developments in antipoverty policy in the United States over the past decade and examine how the safety net and tax system affects poverty and its correlates using data from the 2000 to 2010 waves of the Current Population Survey-Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, and until the health care overhaul in 2009, the first decade of the 21st Century was relatively tepid in terms of major transfer policy reforms. However, real spending on most major social program increased significantly, and in some cases doubled or tripled, in response to demographic shifts and the deep recession. In spite of the real growth in social insurance and means-tested transfer programs, the trends in after-tax and transfer poverty rates were little affected, and if anything, suggest the safety net has lost some of its antipoverty bite in terms of alleviating hardship among those living in deep poverty.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2011-05

Notes/Citation Information

Prepared for the East-West Center and Korea Development Institute Conference on Social Welfare Issues, August 18-19, 2011. I thank Tim Halliday and Karl Scholz for helpful comments on an earlier version, as well as seminar participants at the Tax Economists Forum in Washington, DC. All errors are my own.