During economic downturns the social safety net can play a
critical role for families as well as for the economy more
broadly. Social programs can protect vulnerable families by
making it easier for them to continue to meet basic needs. The
social safety net can also act as a fiscal stimulus — increasing
government spending when other spending is in retreat — and, in
so doing, prevent further job loss. However, over the past couple
of decades there has been an important shift in U.S.
The U.S. spends trillions every year on a social safety net for
people in all steps of life, from childhood to retirement.
A new study from two Harvard University economists, Nathaniel
Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser, examines 133 U.S. policy
changes over the past half-century, including the creation
of Medicare, Medicaid expansions, the introduction of food
stamps, as well as dozens of state and local programs.
Recent Republican attempts to weaken the social safety
net have one big thing in common: The pain they would
inflict on poor children could last a lifetime. This is not
only miserly but also shortsighted. Research
shows that safety net programs keep children in school and
out of trouble, and increase their chances of being healthier and
living longer. All of this has a positive effect on our economy.
Convened to examine the causes of civil unrest in black
communities, the presidential commission issued a 1968 report
with a stark conclusion: America was moving toward two societies,
“one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
No group is as linked to poverty in the American mind as single
mothers. For decades, politicians, journalists and scholars have
scrutinized the reasons poor couples fail to use contraception,
have children out of wedlock and do not marry.
The reality, however, is that single motherhood is not the reason
we have unusually high poverty in the United States, compared
with other rich democracies.
For the past two decades, U.S. anti-poverty policy has coalesced
around the idea that work should be at the center of anti-poverty
programs. Bi-partisan welfare reform in the 1990s focused on work
requirements and time limits. The growth and popularity of the
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which increases the after tax
income for those working near the bottom of the wage
distribution, has also emphasized the importance of work.
Recently, proposals to require work for those receiving a variety
of benefits, including Medicaid, SNAP, and public housing,
continue this employment focus.
The widely expected passage of the tax reform bill will almost
undoubtedly cause significant harm to Medicare. And provocative
statements by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan
declaring that “entitlement reform” will be next threatens
Medicaid. Put these two together and, I think, one thing is
clear: Big Medicare and Medicaid cuts are coming.
Medicaid is the nation’s public health insurance program for
people with low incomes. Overall, the Medicaid program covers one
in five Americans, including many with complex and costly needs
for care. Historically, nonelderly adults without disabilities
accounted for a small share of Medicaid enrollees; however, the
Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded coverage to nonelderly adults
with income up to 138% FPL, or $16,642 per year for an individual
The report asserts that the basic needs for people with
disabilities go beyond what is covered in the official U.S.
definition of poverty and that a new definition of poverty could
help highlight the financial challenges facing people with
disabilities and influence changes in policy.
A new proposal by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (CO) and
Sherrod Brown (OH) would provide a child allowance. The American
Family Act of 2017 would dramatically expand the child tax
credit, which currently offers up to $1,000 a year for families
with significant earnings but little or nothing for many
California has 11 of the 20 most-affluent cities in the nation,
while Florida and Ohio each have four cities on the list of the
20 poorest cities, based on an analysis of 2016 median household
The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American
Community Survey, the results of which were released this
month. The release included numbers for the 599 U.S.
municipalities and 806 counties with at least 65,000
Although it started as a plan to cover only the poor, Medicaid
now touches tens of millions of Americans who live above the
poverty line. The program serves as a backstop for America’s
scattershot health care system. Today Medicaid is the
nation’s largest health insurance program, covering 74 million
people — more than 1 in 5 Americans. Twenty-five percent of
Americans will be on Medicaid at some point in their lives
New research suggests programs aimed at helping low-income U.S.
children, such as Head Start early childhood education and
Medicaid health coverage, may have benefits not only for
participating children but for their children as well.
New research on a program in Mexico gives us a real-world
test case for the idea that providing universal basic income
would cause inflation. And it strongly suggests that giving out
cash doesn’t cause inflation — or if it does, the effects are
very, very mild.
Both proposed versions of the Republican health care bill—the
American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care
Reconciliation Act (BCRA)–create an option for states to receive
Medicaid funds in the form of a block grant (in the BCRA, the
Medicaid Flexibility Program). The lessons from welfare reform
can provide valuable insights into the potential impact of
Medicaid block grants: namely, states may have a considerable
incentive to pursue block grants, because they pose an attractive
opportunity to cut state spending and allocate Medicaid dollars
for other uses should the state desire that outcome.
Congratulations to Pulitzer winner Professor Matthew
Desmond, who presented this important new work on the process and
toll of evictions in America to Center for Poverty Research
faculty and students in November 2015.
Meals on Wheels has been delivering food to older people in the
United States since the 1950s. Last year it served 2.4 million
people. This week, after President Trump released his budget
proposal, a furor erupted over the program’s future and
effectiveness. Let’s look at the evidence.
Meals on Wheels has been the subject of many peer-reviewed
studies in the medical literature. So many have been done that
there are several systematic reviews gathering these studies into
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—In making their case for California’s policies
on climate and immigration, Democrats proudly note the state’s
status as one of the world’s most powerful economies, driven by
thriving tech and creative industries.
Republicans here are pointing to a different metric: the poverty
“Poverty is the No. 1 issue for California.… We have to work to
fix it,” said Republican state Assembly leader Chad Mayes. “It is
directly related to the policies we have put in place in
On a frigid morning here, Nancy Godinez was piling bread and
other staples into her car outside a food pantry. She had lost
her job as a custodian, her unemployment checks had run out, and
her job search had proved fruitless.
One thing she still had was health insurance, acquired three
years ago after Arkansas’ Republican-controlled legislature
agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The
coverage, she said, has allowed her to get regular checkups and
treatment for tendinitis in her foot.
When Americans talk about the failings of the country’s economy,
the focus is usually on inequality—the uneven distribution of
prosperity among the population. Poverty, on its own terms,
receives less attention.
That’s not the case in a necessary new book by Kathryn J. Edin
and H. Luke Shaefer, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing
in America. In it, they report on the roughly 1.5 million
households that are surviving on cash incomes of practically
nothing and not much in the way of government assistance.
“…Economist Chris Benner of the University of California at Davis
does not agree that a higher minimum wage would lead to job
“There may be some job impact in those small businesses
themselves,” he said. But in the entire economy, when you
increase income to low-wage workers, it creates jobs because
those workers are likely to spend their additional income and
that increases demand for goods and services….”
In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million children and one in nine
African-American children had an incarcerated parent. Now,
consider new research from the UC Davis Poverty Center that finds
children whose parents are in prison have worse health, poorer
school performance and are at a greater risk for depression,
anxiety, asthma and HIV/AIDS. The UC Davis report finds that a
parent’s incarceration has long-lasting effects on his or her
Rich and poor students don’t merely enroll in college at
different rates; they also complete it at different rates. The
graduation gap is even wider than the enrollment gap.
In 2002, researchers with the National Center for Education
Statistics started tracking a cohort of 15,000 high school
sophomores. The project, called the Education Longitudinal Study,
recorded information about the students’ academic achievement,
college entry, work history and college graduation. A recent
publication examines the completed education of these young
people, who are now in their late 20s.
Researchers, grant-makers and policymakers have long relied on
enrollment numbers for the federally subsidized Free and
Reduced-Price Lunch program. They use those numbers as a handy
proxy for measuring how many students are struggling
economically. The paperwork that families submit to show their
income becomes the basis of billions in federal funds.
To be eligible for these programs, a family must earn no more
than 85 percent above the poverty line. Just over half of public
school students fit that description.
James Baker was pedaling to work along a slick, snow-covered road
in Frederick County, Md., when a traffic light changed abruptly.
He braked and skidded to the ground, unhurt but making a mess of
his clothes before a long day of work and school.
He was on his bicycle that snowy morning last December, about an
hour northwest of Washington, because the bus service in
Frederick was so erratic. Routes were far apart and the buses
often late, making a 30-minute bike ride, whatever the weather, a
In the wake of the Los Angeles riots more than 20 years ago,
Congress created an anti-poverty experiment called Moving to
Opportunity. It gave vouchers to help poor families move to
better neighborhoods and awarded them on a random basis, so
researchers could study the effects.
LEBANON, Tenn. — The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an
industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas
bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal
issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the
three jobs before that.
In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it
is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time
for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and
reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license.
It is an understatement to say that the welfare reforms of the
1990s were intended to give a little spring to the social safety
The intention was much more radical. The reforms involved a major
make-over of income support, and turning what was imagined as a
net ensnarling many Americans behind a welfare wall, into a
springboard that would incentivize work and allow them to ride a
wave of prosperity to higher incomes that would lift their
children out of poverty.
But this kind of reform is hardly what is needed when times turn
Deported parents face no good solutions to the dilemma of forced
separation from their children: Either they remove their children
from their country of citizenship, or deportees return to rejoin
their children, facing harsh penalties if caught.
Many in Houston regularly face the terrible prospect.
Roughly one in seven people in the United States rely on food
banks or other charitable organizations for basic nutrition,
according to a new study by the nonprofit Feeding America. That
number includes 25 percent of active military families, and an
increased number of adult college students. Deborah Flateman,
executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, joins Jeffrey Brown
to discuss the crisis.
SAN DIEGO — In a typical last-minute scramble, Jannette Navarro,
a 22-year-old Starbucks barista and single mother, scraped
together a plan for surviving the month of July without setting
off family or financial disaster.
YAMHILL, Ore. — ONE delusion common among America’s successful
people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and
In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in
middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories,
and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and
music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they
Like it or not, television has the power to shape our perceptions
of the world. So what do sitcoms, dramas and reality TV say about
In life and on TV, “poor” is relative. Take breakfast: For Honey
Boo Boo’s family, it’s microwaved sausage and pancake sandwiches;
for children in The Wire’s Baltimore ghetto, it’s a juice box and
a bag of chips before school; and on Good Times, set in the
Chicago projects back in the 1970s, it was a healthier choice:
More than 21 million children get free or reduced priced meals
during the school year. But in the summer, that number drops to
only three million.
The big question is what happens to all the other children. Do
they get enough, and the right food, to eat?
This summer, government agencies and are making a massive push to
get millions of meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry as
part of the nationwide . And they’re doing some creative things
to reach them.
As more workers find their lives upended and their paychecks
reduced by ever-changing, on-call schedules, government officials
are trying to put limits on the harshest of those scheduling
The actions reflect a growing national movement — fueled by
women’s and labor groups — to curb practices that affect millions
of families, like assigning just one or two days of work a week
or requiring employees to work unpredictable hours that wreak
havoc with everyday routines like college and child care.
Annie Lowrey writes in the Times Magazine this week about the
troubles of Clay County, Ky., which by several measures is the
hardest place in America to live.
The Upshot came to this conclusion by looking at six data points
for each county in the United States: education (percentage of
residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household
income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and
obesity. We then averaged each county’s relative rank in these
categories to create an overall ranking.
On a hazy, hot evening here, Janice Marks ate a dinner of turkey
and stuffing at a homeless shelter filled with plastic cots
before crossing a few blocks to the Arkansas side of town to
start her night shift restocking the dairy cases at Walmart.
The next day, David Tramel and Janice McFall had a free meal of
hot dogs and doughnut holes at a Salvation Army center in
Arkansas before heading back to their tent, hidden in a field by
the highway in Texas.
Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television
and a computer with an Internet connection poor?
Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material
abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That
indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter
political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon
B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.
When people visit with friends and neighbors in southern West
Virginia, where paved roads give way to dirt before winding
steeply up wooded hollows, the talk is often of lives that never
got off the ground.
“How’s John boy?” Sabrina Shrader, 30, a former neighbor, asked
Marie Bolden one cold winter day at what Ms. Bolden calls her
“little shanty by the tracks.”
Ask Anne Valdez what poverty means for her, and her answer will
describe much more than a simple lack of money.
“It’s like being stuck in a black hole,” says Valdez, 47, who is
unemployed and trying to raise a teenage son in Coney Island, New
York City. “Poverty is like literally being held back from
enjoying life, almost to the point of not being able to breathe.”
For years, researchers have complained that the way the
government measures income and poverty is severely flawed, that
it provides an incomplete — and even distorted — view.
President Obama is hoping to fight poverty, in five so-called
“promise zones.” The government is targeting those areas for
economic revitalization. Host Michel Martin and U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack take a look at the rural communities
involved, and the special challenges to fight poverty there.
Growing up poor has long been associated with reduced educational
attainment and lower lifetime earnings. Some evidence also
suggests a higher risk of depression, substance abuse and other
diseases in adulthood. Even for those who manage to overcome
humble beginnings, early-life poverty may leave a lasting mark,
accelerating aging and increasing the risk of degenerative
disease in adulthood.