News Release

Is The Heritage Foundation Credible?


The Heritage Foundation is one of our country’s most influential and oft-quoted think tanks. But its claims often seem to be based more on ideology than solid research.

Heritage Foundation poverty analyst Robert Rector has issued widely trumpeted reports arguing that the poor aren’t so poor — for instance, “The Myth of Widespread American Poverty” (1998). The reports contain false and misleading claims. Purporting to show that poor Americans rarely go hungry, Heritage relies on an outmoded 1991 Health and Human Services nutrition survey that understates the problem, while ignoring the more recent and complete Census Bureau survey that replaced it. Rector claims that “poor Americans live in larger houses or apartments” than “the general population in Western Europe,” but the supporting chart compares floor space per person in European cities like Paris and Athens to that of all poor U.S. households. Most of America’s poor live in rural or suburban areas. Heritage’s main point — that “there is a huge gap between the `poor’ as defined by the Census Bureau and what most ordinary Americans consider to be poverty” — is dubious. Polls consistently show that Americans would put the poverty line higher than its current level.

Contact: Seth Ackerman, “The Ever-Present Yet Nonexistent Poor,” Extra! (1-2/99),,; Katha Pollitt, “Poverty: Fudging the Numbers,” The Nation (11/2/98),

In its advocacy of privatization, Heritage published “research” last year claiming to show that Social Security is bad for blacks and Latinos and that many African-Americans pay more into the system than they receive in benefits. Citing methodological errors, Steve Goss, Deputy Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, rebutted Heritage in a memo (2/4/99) which concluded that “the non-white population actually enjoys the same or better expected rates of return from Social Security.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report by senior analyst Kilolo Kijakazi on Heritage’s incorrect methodology and assumptions, with the Goss memo appended.

Contact: Kilolo Kijakazi at CBPP, Her report is at See also Business Week, “Red-Faced Over Social Security: A Conservative Think Tank’s Boo-Boo,” 12/14/98.

In January 1995, Heritage’s Robert Rector claimed in congressional testimony that “the U.S. has spent over $5.3 trillion on welfare…since the onset of the War on Poverty” without decreasing poverty. But Heritage’s often-cited “welfare” figure — further inflated in recent years — is highly misleading. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented, 70 percent of the federal spending Heritage classified as “welfare” went to households that did not receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the core welfare program during the 30-year period. Most went to non-AFDC households with elderly, disabled or “medically needy” individuals, as well as low-income workers — not the jobless poor typically associated with “welfare.”

See “How Much Do We Spend on Welfare?” by Sharon Parrott (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, publication #95-032). To acquire the report, contact CBPP, (202) 408-1080.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167