programs besides AFDC raise concerns about incentives; for example, Social Security and SSI have negative effects on work effort (see Chapter 8).
For all of these reasons, it is not possible, on any theoretical or strictly scientific grounds, to link poverty thresholds directly to benefits. To the many people involved in evaluating and designing public assistance programs, this conclusion may seem obvious. However, we believe it is worth restating the obvious to underscore the point that measuring need, by determining how many people have resources below a reasonable poverty standard, is different from determining the proper societal response to that need.
In sum, many factors properly enter into a determination of program benefit standards, including judgements about the extent to which society is prepared to allocate scarce resources to support low-income people and the mix of goals that society wants government assistance programs to serve. The critical role of such judgements is the reason that a panel such as ours, chosen for expertise in measurement issues, cannot make recommendations about appropriate benefit levels for specific assistance programs. However, the fact that we do not make a recommendation about national minimum benefit standards for AFDC (or other programs) should not be taken to mean that there is no case for reducing the wide variation in AFDC benefits across the states. Rather, as a panel on poverty measurement, our position on the issue of benefit levels for assistance programs is necessarily neutral.
In conclusion, we urge policy makers at the federal and state levels to carefully consider all of the issues involved in the current debate about the nation's welfare policy. Ultimately, the determination of appropriate programs and policies to alleviate poverty involves "politics" in its best sense—namely, the consideration of competing public objectives against the constraints of scarce public resources within the framework of a nation's social and political system.