A new study that traces the effect of government programs on poverty all the way back to 1967 finds unequivocally that the money the government spends to help the poor does, in fact, reduce poverty. Suck it, Republicans.
The study, by researchers at Columbia University, uses a measure of poverty that is more accurate than the government's standard official poverty rate measure (details here), and takes into account how poverty is affected by government transfer programs including food stamps, welfare, tax credits, social security, and unemployment payments. The conclusion: the "War on Poverty" launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has had success. And welfare, at least to some extent, works.
Specifically: "without taxes and other government programs, poverty would have been roughly flat at 27 - 29% , while with government benefits poverty has fallen from 26% to 16% — a 40% reduction. Government programs today are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%) while in 1967 they only cut poverty by about a one percentage point."
The Washington Post notes that the study also found that, during the most recent economic disaster, "poverty stayed stable during the financial crisis and Great Recession thanks to a dramatic expansion of the safety net, including enhanced unemployment benefits, more-generous food stamps and tax credits for the poor."
None of this is to say that the war on poverty has been won, or that the war on poverty could not be waged more fiercely; it just goes to show that without all of our anti-poverty programs, poverty would be much worse than it already is.