In recent years, the Census Bureau has produced an alternative poverty rate, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes those programs and also factors in regional differences in housing costs, medical expenses and other costs not captured in the official measure. Normally, the supplemental measure is higher than the official measure; 2020 was the first year in which the supplemental measure was lower.
Many of the programs that helped people avert poverty last year have expired, even as the pandemic continues. An estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits this month after Congress allowed pandemic-era expansions of the program to lapse.
A White House economist, Jared Bernstein, said on Tuesday that the new poverty data should encourage lawmakers to enact the $3.5 trillion Democratic measure that includes much of Mr. Biden’s agenda for the economy, which the administration argues will create more and better-paying jobs.
“It’s one thing to temporarily lift people out of poverty — hugely important — but you can’t stop there,” said Mr. Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We have to make sure that people don’t fall back into poverty after these temporary measures abate.”
But even as Democrats cheered the Tuesday report, most Republican lawmakers, who were in control of Congress and the White House last year, did not issue statements promoting the poverty numbers. That may be a reflection of the party’s unified opposition to the Democratic push for more spending on social programs, which the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, described on Monday as a “reckless taxing and spending spree.”
Conservative policy experts said that although some expansion of government aid was appropriate during the pandemic, those programs should be wound down, not expanded, as the economy healed.
“Policymakers did a remarkable job last March enacting CARES and other legislation, lending to businesses, providing loan forbearance, expanding the safety net,” Scott Winship, a senior fellow and the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, wrote in reaction to the data, referring to an early pandemic aid bill, which included around $2 trillion in spending. “But we should have pivoted to other priorities thereafter.”
Jason DeParle contributed reporting.