As a rule, social insurance programs (like Social Security pensions) are generous but poorly targeted [see graphic below], while means-tested programs are well-targeted but meager. As a result, American social policy closes most of the poverty gap for elderly families and individuals, for whom social security benefits flow to rich and poor alike. But it accomplishes progressively less for single-parent, two-parent, and childless families—for whom means-tested benefits are both less generous and less universal. The gap is especially acute for non-elderly childless families who—regardless of their income—rarely meet the eligibility threshold for public assistance.
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