Poverty and Income Security

Numerous federal programs and policies aim to reduce poverty, alleviate some of poverty's adverse consequences, enhance the security of people’s incomes, and affect the distribution of income and economic well-being. CBO provides cost estimates for legislative proposals related to those programs and policies. The agency also conducts in-depth analyses of the budgetary and other effects of those programs and policies and of options for changing them. (A separate page on Social Security provides additional information on CBO’s work in that area.)

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    In 2014, average household income before accounting for means-tested transfers and federal taxes was $19,000 for the lowest quintile and $281,000 for the highest quintile. After transfers and taxes, those averages were $31,000 and $207,000.

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    CBO periodically issues a volume of options—this year’s installment presents 115—that would decrease federal spending or increase federal revenues over the next decade. The report is available both as a PDF and in a searchable format.

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    In 2013, households in the top, middle, and bottom income quintiles received 53, 14, and 5 percent, respectively, of the nation's before-tax income and paid 69, 9, and 1 percent, respectively, of federal taxes.

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    In 2014, 16 percent of men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34 were jobless or incarcerated, up from 11 percent in 1980. Those numbers and related longer-term trends have significant economic and budgetary implications.

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    In 2016, low- and moderate-income workers will face an effective marginal tax rate of 31 percent, on average. Federal individual income and payroll taxes will be the main contributors.

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    Since 1990, real spending for child nutrition programs more than doubled—to $20 billion in 2014. CBO expects that increases in food prices and demographic changes will cause spending to rise further in the future.

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    CBO describes federal housing assistance to low-income households and how it has changed since 2000, provides information about the households that receive assistance, and assesses options for altering that assistance.

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    CBO examines several options that would reduce federal spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the effects they would have on households with different amounts of income.

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    This report examines spending on TANF, how TANF compares to other low-income support programs, and the effects of TANF on employment. CBO also analyzes policy options that would change the program’s funding and requirements for states.

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    In 2011, households in the top, middle, and bottom quintiles received 52, 14, and 5 percent of the nation's before-tax income, respectively; the shares of federal taxes paid by those households were 69, 9, and 1 percent.

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    Raising the minimum wage would increase family income for many low-wage workers, moving some of them out of poverty. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated and the income of those workers would fall substantially.

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    During the past 40 years, federal spending for major means-tested programs and tax credits for low-income households more than tripled as a share of gross domestic product. In 2012, such spending totaled $588 billion.

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    The number and cost of refundable tax credits have grown considerably since 1975. Federal costs (in 2013 dollars) peaked at $238 billion in 2008, but costs will fall to $149 billion in 2013 before reaching $213 billion in 2021.