What Economists Say About Paul Ryan's Report On Poverty

Fox News is providing ample, uncritical airtime to hype Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) report on the alleged ineffectiveness of government anti-poverty programs, despite condemnation from numerous economists that the report is misleading and inaccurate.

Paul Ryan Releases Report On Poverty In America

Washington Post: Ryan Report Questions Efficacy Of Anti-Poverty Programs. In an article outlining details of the forthcoming Republican House budget, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa noted that Representative Ryan's report, titled “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” offered an “often stinging” assessment of anti-poverty programs:

On Monday, Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, published an often stinging 204-page critique of the federal government's anti-poverty policies, questioning the efficacy of dozens of initiatives and underscoring where Republicans say consolidation or spending reductions are needed.

“There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap,” Ryan said in an interview. “There is no coordination with these programs, and new ones are frequently being added without much consideration to how they affect other programs. We've got to fix the situation, and this report is a first step toward significant reform.” [The Washington Post, 3/2/14]

Fox News Provides Uncritical Airtime For The Report

Fox's MacCallum: Government Programs Barely Make “A Dent In Poverty.” Previewing the release of President Obama's budget on the March 4 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum claimed that while the president's plan called for increased spending on programs to fight poverty, “budget hawks say that the programs don't work, barely making a dent in poverty when you really look at the numbers over the past 50 years.” MacCallum then turned to Fox's chief congressional correspondent Mike Emmanuel to hype Representative Ryan's claims about the alleged failure of government programs to reduce poverty and help low-income Americans. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/4/14]

Fox's Hemmer: “What Has Americans Gotten For” Anti-Poverty Programs? In a March 4 interview with The Hill's Bob Cusack about the pending release of President Obama's budget, America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer and Cusack repeatedly and uncritically promoted Ryan's report, with Hemmer stating “Paul Ryan is very forceful on the point. We've thrown a lot of money at these programs for decades, and what has America gotten for it?” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/4/14]

But Economists Note That The Ryan Report Is Inaccurate And Misleading

Economist Jared Bernstein: Ryan Report “Beset With Misleading Evidence And Conclusions.” In a post on his On the Economy blog, economist and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein outlined numerous ways in which Ryan's report was misleading, including alleged claims that anti-poverty programs create a “trap” for beneficiaries and that government programs that have been in place for 50 years have done little to reduce poverty. Bernstein noted that while the report was “a serious look at the issue” of poverty, it is ultimately “beset with misleading evidence and conclusions”:

Paul Ryan and the majority Republican staff of the House Budget Committee are out with a big document that purports to provide a balanced evaluation of the full spate of federal anti-poverty programs. It's a detailed, serious look at the issue but is beset with misleading evidence and conclusions. While much of the commentary suggests that federal antipoverty efforts have failed and are fraught by wasteful duplication, the evidence--some of which is in here and much of which is conspicuously missing) [sic] --belies that facile claim.

Of course we could improve the efficiency of many of these programs. But a close look at their totality shows considerable and even lasting anti-poverty effectiveness. [On the Economy, 3/3/14]

CBPP: Ryan Report “Replete With Misleading” Evidence Used “To Portray Safety Net In A Negative Light.” In a detailed analysis of the Ryan report, CBPP vice president for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity Sharron Parrott noted that the report understates the effect that anti-poverty programs have had on reducing poverty and ignores research that is in opposition to its assertions:

Though it purports to be a balanced, evidence-based review of the safety net, it falls far short of that standard. It's replete with misleading and selective presentations of data and research, which it uses to portray the safety net in a negative light. It also omits key research and data that point in more positive directions. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/4/14]

Economists: Ryan Report Misrepresents Our Research. According to an article in The Fiscal Times, numerous economists whose research was cited in Ryan's report have noted that their work was misrepresented across a range of issues, including the effectiveness of past welfare reform efforts and the effect of housing vouchers on labor outcomes. Additionally, Columbia University economist Jane Waldfogel claimed that, in its assessment of the war on poverty, the report “seemed to arbitrarily chop off data from two of the most successful years of the war on poverty.” From The Fiscal Times (emphasis added):

The Columbia researchers found that, using their model of the SPM, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012. Ryan only cites data from 1969 onward, ignoring a full 36 percent of the decline.

“It's technically correct, but it's an odd way to cite the research,” said Waldfogel. “In my experience, usually you use all of the available data. There's no justification given. It's unfortunate because it really understates the progress we've made in reducing poverty.

The Ryan report uses the same paper to support its assertion that a welfare reform program instituted in 1996 was the cause of a decline in child poverty.

Chris Wimer, the lead author on the paper and a researcher at Columbia, said Ryan's conclusion ignores the major expansion of the earned-income tax credit in 1993 and the roaring dotcom economy of the mid-to-late 1990s. “While our data can't disentangle those three things, attributing the decline in poverty after 1993 to the welfare reform of 1996 seems to go beyond what the data show,” Wimer said.

Barbara Wolfe, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Ryan's paper simply misstates the findings of one of her papers studying the effect of housing assistance on labor outcomes. [The Fiscal Times, 3/4/14]