President Trump Has A Great Opportunity To Cut The "Poverty" Rate

On Tuesday the first detailed version of the federal budget for the next fiscal year (beginning October 1) came out.  It was about 3 nanoseconds before the usual voices of the progressive media resorted to the usual ignorant talking points.  

Apparently, there is a style manual somewhere that requires the use of the word "cruel" in all discussions of a budget proposal from a Republican.  Out of all the subjects covered in the massive budget proposal, the one giving the most opportunity for use of the official word "cruel" was the proposal dealing with the food stamp ("SNAP") program, so most mainstream press outlets gave particular focus to that subject.  For example, we have Chauncey Devega in Salon ("Trump’s proposed budget is a wish list of wanton cruelty. . . ."); Derek Thompson in the Atlantic ("Trump's budget is a cruel con . . . ."); Abigail Tracy in Vanity Fair ("Trump's big, cruel budget proposal would decimate the safety net . . . ."); Michael Cohen in the Boston Globe ("Cruel fictions of the Trump budget. . . .").

For a slight variation on the theme, there was the speech given by Hillary in New York on Wednesday (is she still running for President?), in which she upped the ante by saying that the budget embodied "an unimaginable level of cruelty."  Really?  Current level of food stamp usage is about 44 million recipients.  Trump proposes to cut that -- maybe if he's lucky -- back into the 30s of millions.  Now, quick pop quiz:  How much did Bill Clinton cut food stamp usage during his presidency, and to what number of recipients?  The answer is that food stamp usage was at about 27 million users when Clinton took office in 1993, and declined to about 17 million by the time he left at the end of 2000, a drop of close to 40%.  The 17 million recipients in 2000 were well less than half the number today, and well less than half the percentage of the population as well.  So, Hillary, if Trump's proposal that might get back to around 30 million recipients is "unimaginably" cruel, what's your adjective for someone who would take the number back to 17 million?

Here is a chart of food stamp recipients by year:


The New York Times helpfully piles on in today's lead editorial, titled "The Problem Isn't Food Stamps, It's Poverty."  Excerpt:

Food stamps work. Each month they help feed 43 million poor and low-income Americans, most in families with children and working parents. Food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, keep millions of people from falling into poverty each year and prevent millions of poor people, many disabled or elderly, from falling deeper into poverty.

Do you think that these people must know what they are talking about to put such a seemingly definitive statement in the first sentences of a lead editorial?  The opposite.  It is almost impossible to comprehend the level of ignorance and stupidity embodied in the quoted statement.

The New York Times is completely unaware -- or, at least they pretend to be completely unaware -- that food stamps are not counted in the federal government's measure of poverty in any way.  For that reason, providing food stamps to additional recipients does not keep one single person -- let alone the "millions of people" claimed by the Times -- from "falling into poverty."

Next question:  Would reducing the number of food stamp recipients raise or lower the measured level of poverty in the United States?  For anybody who understands this subject at all, the answer is obvious:  reducing the number of food stamp recipients would lower the measured level of poverty.  This will be particularly true if, as Trump proposes, a work requirement is imposed as a condition for able-bodied adults to receive food stamps.

Does that seem counter-intuitive?  Once you understand that food stamps are not included in any way in the measure of poverty, it is not counter-intuitive at all.  "Poverty," as measured by the government, is a question only of what is called "cash income."  Take a person with no cash income and give him food stamps, and he still has no cash income, so he remains in "poverty."  He also has a strong incentive not to get a job (or at least, not to get a job with income reported to the government) in order to keep and maximize the food stamps.  However, take a person with no cash income and require him to take a job as a condition of maintaining some level of food stamps, and now he has cash income.  Even minimum wage jobs pay plenty to remove from poverty almost everybody who works full time or near full time.  (The only exceptions are large families with only one earner.)  Imposing a reportable job requirement also has the effect of bringing into the open substantial amounts of income that previously existed, but was off the books or under the table.

So in fact the changes that Trump is proposing in the food stamp program, and in other handout programs, have the potential to cause a substantial reduction in "poverty" as measured in government statistics.  This is no different from the dramatic declines in the poverty rate that occurred in the mid 90s, during the Clinton presidency, following the 1996 "welfare reform."  If Trump and the Congress have the stomach to proceed in the face of the outrageous charges of "cruelty" currently being hurled at them, they will have the benefit of dramatically improved "poverty" statistics to use in the next election.