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Our Best Anti-Poverty Program



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Jay reminds us of an important point: The great achievement of the Reagan economy wasn’t that the rich got a lot richer (though they did, and good for them!) but that the poor got a lot richer, too. As Treasury figures from the era document, the vast majority (nearly 85 percent) of those who were poor in 1979 (meaning they resided in the lowest income quintile) were in a higher quintile by 1988; even more impressive, two-thirds of them had moved up two quintiles or more. And most impressive of all: Of the people who were in the lowest income quintile in 1979, more had moved to the top quintile by 1988 than remained in the bottom quintile. Which is to say, if you were on the bottom in 1979, you were statistically more likely to be on the top by 1988 than to remain at the bottom. 

Some of that is of course the result of passing time: Most people’s incomes go up as they get older. But if you compare the Reagan years with any other stretch in postwar history, you’ll be hard pressed to find a time during which the poor did better. The poverty rate was cut by 16 percent in the Reagan years, and the total income of the bottom 20 percent more than doubled, rising from $181 billion to $476 billion.

Who wants to bet that the income of the bottom 20 percent will have doubled at the end of the Obama administration? If the Reagan years are what a “decade of neglect” looks like, then bring on the neglect, which produced considerably better real-world results than all of Barack Obama’s fine speeches combined.



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