Things are getting better for Americans who have been struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Poverty studies scholar Robert Doar reports that in 2016, by every measure, U.S. poverty rates dropped close to their lowest level ever. Fewer Americans are reliant upon government welfare benefits to pay the bills.
That's good news. But nearly 40 million Americans still qualify for food stamp assistance. How can poverty rates be so low, yet food stamp rolls be so high?
The problem is a shrinking labor force. Unemployment is low, but many healthy people – especially men – have dropped out of the labor force entirely, and rely on the social safety net for support. If you're healthy and you choose not to work, there's only so much the government can do to keep you out of poverty.
More good news: the economy is growing and businesses are hiring. They are offering raises, bonuses, and generous paid leave benefits as well as enhanced job training programs. Some companies are more willing to hire former prison inmates, helping them reintegrate back into society.
As the momentum grows, other reforms are also moving toward reducing the number of people reliant on the social safety net.
Safety net programs like food stamps are beginning to focus on pushing people into work, not just signing them up for benefits. These efforts mean even more people will earn their way out of poverty in 2018, and if you're truly focused on enhancing dignity for all Americans, that's what matters most.
It has been more than 50 years, since the War on Poverty was declared. It's about time policies start making a dent.