Public Policy and the Income Distribution tackles many of the most difficult and intriguing questions about how government intervention — or lack thereof — has affected the incomes of everyday Americans. Rebecca Blank analyzes welfare reform, and presents systematic research on income, poverty rates, and welfare and labor force participation of single mothers. She finds that single mothers worked more and were less dependent on public assistance following welfare reform, and that low-skilled single mothers had no greater difficulty finding work than others. Timothy Smeeding compares poverty reduction programs in the United States with policies in other developed countries. Poverty and inequality are higher in the United States than in other advanced economies, but Smeeding argues that this is largely a result of policy choices. Poverty rates based on market incomes alone are actually lower in the United States than elsewhere, but government interventions in the United States were less than half as effective at reducing poverty as were programs in the other countries. The most dramatic poverty reduction story of twentieth century America was seen among the elderly, who went from being the age group most likely to live in poverty in the 1960s to the group least likely to be poor at the end of the century. Gary Englehardt and Jonathan Gruber examine the role of policy in alleviating old-age poverty by estimating the impact of Social Security benefits on the income of the elderly poor. They find that the growth in Social Security almost completely explains the large decline in elderly poverty in the United States.
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