By spending around $100 billion a year, the United States could cut child poverty in half in the next decade. That’s the conclusion of a recent 600-page National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report, which offers two expensive options for lifting children out of poverty.
One option would expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more commonly known as “food stamps”) and housing vouchers and increase the earned income tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit for working families. That plan would cost the government $90 billion a year, but would purportedly bring 300,000 people into the workforce and cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half. Another option costs $109 billion a year and would increase the tax credits, raise the minimum wage, allow immigrant families to receive government aid without restrictions, and provide a $2,700 yearly allowance for each child, all on top of the first program’s benefits, creating twice as many jobs while also cutting U.S. child poverty in half.
Critics of the report argue the proposals’ emphasis on direct assistance is ultimately harmful to families’ long-term flourishing.
“The proposals largely ignore, and risk undermining, the work-based reforms that took place over the last generation and helped millions of families lift themselves out of poverty,” wrote Matt Weidinger, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He pointed out that after the 1996 welfare reform law, low-income parents started working more, and the strong economy plus an increase to the earned income tax credit led to a significant reduction in child poverty.
“This report could become just the latest example of how the ‘consensus solution’ to poverty is to ‘hand people cash’ without requiring much or even any work in exchange,” Weidinger warned, instead suggesting “work and earning by parents is the better, more enduring, solution to poverty.”
The Freedom and Virtue Institute, a faith-based poverty-fighting group, contends that full-time work doesn’t just solve families’ cash-flow problems, but it also helps change mindsets that can leave people stuck in poverty.
“When people engage in meaningful economic activity they actualize their dignity as beings created in God’s image,” the institute states on its website. “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of participating in God’s creation.”
Robert VerBruggen, a research fellow for the Institute for Family Studies, pointed out that the report’s authors go out of their way to avoid endorsing programs that boost work or marriage. He praised much of the work that went into the lengthy report, which Congress commissioned in 2015, but instead of demanding a plan to cut child poverty in half in 10 years, VerBruggen said Congress should ask for more research on how to encourage work and marriage to help Americans flourish.
“In insisting on an ‘evidence-based’ plan for reducing child poverty by half in just 10 years, Congress stacked the deck in favor of raw transfers to the poor,” he said.