Sanders: Welfare reform more than doubled 'extreme poverty'

One thing that sets Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders apart from opponent Hillary Clinton is that he opposed a 1996 law known widely as welfare reform.

The Vermont senator said the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which both Democratic President Bill Clinton and a bipartisan Congress supported, contributed to poverty today.

"What welfare reform did, in my view, was go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country," Sanders said at a Feb. 24 press conference in South Carolina. "During that time, I spoke out against so-called welfare reform because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable. Secretary Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform. ... Now what happened as a result of that so-called welfare reform bill? Since legislation was signed into law, the number of families living in extreme poverty has more than doubled from 636,000 to 1.6 million."

We wondered if the number of families living in extreme poverty — defined as households living on less than $2 in cash per person per day — has more than doubled, and we also wanted to know if the 1996 legislation caused that trend.

We found that the best estimates show Sanders’ numbers are right on, and there is some well-regarded research that ties welfare reform to the rise in extreme poverty.