Working-class whites are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a study released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.
The result does not simply reflect the fact there are more white people. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared with 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.
Among working-class minorities, 43 percent of otherwise poor blacks were lifted from poverty by the federal safety net. Only 28 percent of otherwise poor Hispanics were lifted from poverty.
“There is a perception out there that the safety net is only for minorities. While it’s very important to minorities . . . it’s also quite important to whites, particularly the white working class,” said Isaac Shapiro, a senior fellow at the center and one of the report’s authors.
The center, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, analyzed working-age, noncollege-educated adult beneficiaries of more than a dozen government programs, including food stamps, welfare, housing subsidies, tax credits, home energy assistance, school lunch programs, and Social Security.
Without the benefits, 24 percent of whites were poor, compared with 43 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics. With the programs, 13 percent of whites were poor, compared with 24 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics. Shapiro said the low percentage of Hispanic beneficiaries reflects the Census Bureau’s inclusion of unauthorized immigrants in the poverty rate, but they are not eligible to receive most of the benefits.