The government's "wasteful" spending after the financial collapse kept millions from falling into poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Although the Recovery Act was designed chiefly to bolster a collapsing economy, it generated the important side effect of protecting millions of families against poverty and massive income losses. Center analysis of the new Census data shows that the Recovery Act kept more than 4.5 million people out of poverty in 2009: 1.3 million people through extensions and expansions of federal unemployment benefits, 1.5 million people through improvements in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, nearly 1 million people through the Making Work Pay tax credit, and another 700,000 people through an increase in benefit levels for the SNAP program (previously called food stamps).
Here it is in graph form:
Poverty is still very high -- reflecting the depth of the recession, and slow pace of the recovery -- but absent federal action, it would have been much, much worse.
That said, on a political level, I can understand Republican disdain for the stimulus and other programs, even as they kept millions above the poverty line. The GOP draws most of its support from older, wealthier voters, who aren't terribly concerned with the mass of people -- minorities, lower-income whites -- most harmed by the economic collapse, and most likely to benefit from federal anti-poverty efforts. This is something of a banal observation, but Republicans can demonize these programs because their politics don't depend on them.
-- Jamelle Bouie