The short answer is that yes, the US welfare system has generally been effective at reducing poverty, although it could also be more efficiently designed. JSTOR Daily has a recent blog post that’s a great place to start on this topic, including background on the Great Society and the modern welfare state, and summaries of research on the effects of welfare.
Universal basic income is still a long way off, but it’s growing more plausible thanks to the work of advocacy groups like the Basic Income Earth Network. The group is entirely volunteer-driven, and has a range of positions available for people who would like to offer their time. Check out their volunteer opportunities if you’d like to work to make basic income a reality in your area.
The persistence of poverty in the US suggests that the social safety net isn’t performing as well as one might hope. A new solution which has slowly been gaining acceptance is the idea of a universal basic income — a guaranteed monthly grant to every citizen in the country. FiveThirtyEight offers a useful history of the idea, and some of the major advantages and challenges it would bring.
The economic uncertainty surrounding basic income is huge, and the politics of bringing such a program about on a large scale are daunting. But something makes this radical proposal so exciting that people and governments are increasingly willing to try it. Basic income challenges our notions of the social safety net, the relationship between work and income, and how to adapt to technological change. That makes it one of the most audacious social policy experiments in modern history. It could fail disastrously, or it could change everything for the better.
While the US has (nearly) eradicated extreme poverty, many people still live without enough income to consistently meet their basic needs. Over the next several days, we’ll feature a series of articles about poverty in the US, and the organizations working to develop innovative anti-poverty policies. A good place to start is with WNYC’s series of shows exploring myths about American poverty. They dispel some common assumptions about poverty, including the ideas that poor people are lazy and that the “deserving” poor can easily access social safety nets.