Mike Konczal: No, we don’t spend $1 trillion on welfare each year:
If you’ve read any conservative commentary on the war on poverty in the past week, you’ve likely seen this talking point: “We spend $1 trillion each year on welfare and there’s been no reduction in poverty.” That’s crazy! Then, a sentence later, you’ll probably see a line like this: “It’s true. According to a recent report, we spend a trillion dollars on means-test programs each year, yet the official census numbers show no reduction in poverty.”... If you are reading that second line quickly, you probably think it bolsters the credibility of the first line.... The second sentence is actually used as an escape hatch to say something that isn’t true. We don’t spend anywhere near a trillion dollars on welfare unless you mangle the term “welfare” to be meaningless, and we do reduce poverty.... Dylan Matthews has already dissected the claim that poverty hasn’t declined.... It’s just that the 'official' poverty rate doesn’t factor in the earned-income tax credit or food stamps in its calculations....
The claim about $1 trillion on 'welfare' is more interesting and complicated. It shows up in this recent report from the Cato Institute.... The federal government spends just $212 billion per year on what we could reasonably call 'welfare'.... We can’t have a productive conversation unless we make it clear what the government is, and is not, doing. And it is spending a lot less on welfare than conservatives claim, and getting fantastic results for what it does spend.