By Garrett T. Pace on January 30, 2014 10:35 AM
Can government successfully intervene to raise incomes and
reduce poverty? It's a heated but critical question. While social welfare programs,
such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid, help lift low-income families out of
poverty, in some cases they can produce a disincentive to make more money--known
as the "cliff
effect"--in which a modest increase in income could mean an equal or greater
decrease in welfare benefit. In other words, some families could be worse off financially
if they accept a small raise at work.
This is obviously problematic, but what is the solution?
Future of Children
L. Berlin suggests expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit
(EITC), which was created to increase work incentives among the poor by
reducing the federal taxes they owe and refunding any leftover tax credit through
yearly tax returns. For those filing taxes this year, the maximum
EITC for a family with three children is approximately $6,000, while those
without children can receive a maximum of approximately $500. As President
Obama acknowledged in his 2014
State of the Union Address, "few [policies] are more effective at reducing
inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work ... but it
doesn't do enough for single workers who don't have kids."
Berlin's policy recommendation addresses this concern. He
argues for increasing the credit for all low-wage workers aged 21 to 54 who
work full time--regardless of whether they have children or whether they are
married, though the largest benefits would accrue to two-parent households in
which both adults can work full-time. This policy would reduce poverty without
distorting work incentives, as the earning supplement would progressively
decrease with higher income. In effect, it could help transform a "cliff" into
a steady slope of opportunity.
To learn more about this proposed policy, including how it could
be paid for, see the Future of Children issue
Next Generation of Anti-Poverty Strategies. We will return the topic of
EITC expansion and how it can help children in our Spring 2014 Future of Children issue, "Helping
Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms."
By Wade C. Jacobsen on August 15, 2013 3:47 PM
from the Fragile Families
and Child Wellbeing Study suggests that stress or uncertainty about
external circumstances can impact family relationships. One recent study
by Dohoon Lee, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Sara McLanahan, Daniel Notterman, and Irwin
Garfinkel finds that mothers used more harsh parenting practices, such as
corporal punishment, following the Great Recession. Moreover, macroeconomic conditions
like consumer sentiment (that is, how people feel generally about the economy),
rather than actual conditions (for example, local unemployment rate), are
associated with harsh parenting.
Findings from another study suggest
that macroeconomic stress has caused couples to delay or forego separation or
divorce, especially among those hardest hit by the recession. Based on research
presented in the Future of Children suggesting
positive outcomes of marriage for children, such a finding could have good
implications for low-conflict families but serious consequences for families
experiencing violence or abuse.
Future of Children authors Philip
A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, and Virginia Knox explain that some
low-income family intervention programs have begun to address how parents and
partners can cope with the stress and uncertainty caused by external
circumstances such as a dragging economy. The authors highlight one such
program that has had encouraging early results. Participants in the Supporting Healthy Marriage
project, a yearlong marriage and relationship education program for couples
with children, report less abuse, more positive communication, and greater
marital happiness than control-group counterparts.
With the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers at more than 40 percent, similar
programs for unmarried couples with children are being evaluated. One such
project called Building
Strong Families found little evidence of relationship quality improvement
among participants, but Cowan and colleagues indicate that more analyses are
needed to understand these findings. Research on the challenges that unmarried
families face can be found in the Future
of Children issue on Fragile
Families. Also see our issue The
Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies.
By Wade C. Jacobsen on July 22, 2013 8:49 AM
In the US, employees with more education and higher salaries generally
have greater access to workplace flexibility (for example, time off, adjustable
schedules, etc.) than do low-wage workers. But even among those who have access,
write Future of Children authors Ellen
Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton, the culture surrounding
flexibility may deter employees from taking advantage of it. Sixty-one percent
of employees believe they would be less likely to get ahead in their jobs if
they asked for flexibility.
Workplace flexibility is important for both women
and men, but it is especially important for mothers of young children. Princeton
University's Ann-Marie Slaughter argues
that mothers in professional or leadership positions will not be able to
successfully juggle work and family until workplace norms and values allow for
more balance. Consistent with this view, Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton report
that the higher employees climb the professional ladder, the more likely they
are to agree that they have had to choose between advancing in their jobs and
devoting time to family life.
This month, research by the New
York Times suggests that many working mothers, especially those with young
children, may not be aspiring to top leadership positions. Though half of all
mothers in the US work full time, a recent poll shows that only a quarter would
choose to work full-time if they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Thus,
for some women workplace flexibility may be more important than career
Changing the culture of workplace flexibility is an important first
step for improving work-family balance. Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton outline
several strategies for increasing flexibility. Developed by the Families and
Work Institute, these strategies include community collaboration and
educational events, media outreach, and measuring results. The details of these
strategies, along with research and policy recommendations for workplace
flexibility, can be found in the Future
of Children issue on Work
By Wade C. Jacobsen on May 25, 2012 9:36 AM
Future of Children research
underlines the challenges faced by youth approaching adulthood, particularly
among those from disadvantaged backgrounds with no postsecondary education on
the horizon. Even thornier is the pathway to adulthood for youth from more
vulnerable populations such as those challenged with a chronic illness, mental
health issues, or physical disabilities. A recent study highlighted by CBS News
indicates that one in three young adults with autism has completed no college
or technical schooling and has no paid work experience seven years after
graduating high school. This is urgent news considering that roughly half a
million autistic children will be reaching adulthood in the next ten years.
Recognizing the importance of education for
children with disabilities before and throughout the transition to adulthood, the
United States has made many advances in special education over the past few
decades. The special education system gives children with disabilities greater
access to public education and provides an infrastructure for their schooling. Moreover,
some services even extend through early adulthood, which is more than can be
said for other
vulnerable populations. The federal Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) requires that secondary schools develop individualized
transition plans including long-term education goals, vocational training, and
general life skills.
these advancements in special education, Laudan Aron and Pamela Loprest
indicate in their chapter Disability
and the Education System, that many problems remain, including the
over- and under-identification of some subgroups of students, delays in
providing service to students, as well as bureaucratic and financial barriers that
often complicate effective service provision. In addition, some needed services
may not be available when children have reached adulthood. A recent article in US News
and World Report indicates that families of children with autism
often describe leaving high school as "falling off a cliff" because of the lack
of services for adults on the autism spectrum.
Providing these children with needed support before
and after the transition to adulthood has substantial immediate and long-term
economic costs and benefits. A recent article in CNN Health
reports that out-of-pocket medical expenses are growing fastest among Americans
18 years old and younger. The Future of
Children volume, Children with Disabilities indicates that these
expenses are higher among families caring for a child with a special health
care need. In their chapter, The Economic Costs of Childhood Disability, Mark Stabile and
Sara Allin suggest that due to these high costs to children and families, the
benefits of effective interventions to prevent and reduce childhood disability
might well outweigh the societal costs of such programs.
May 23, 2012, the Anderson Center for Autism hosted an event for more than 350
practitioners and parents, which featured research from the Future of Children's Children with
Disabilities volume, and discussed effective early interventions for children
with disabilities. For more discussion on evidence-based policies
and intervention programs for special needs children and those making the
transition to adulthood, see the Future
of Children volumes Children with Disabilitiesand Transition to Adulthood. Add your voice by commenting on the Future of Childrenblog.
By Wade C. Jacobsen on October 21, 2011 3:44 PM
Scholars, service providers, and city government officials filed into
CUNY Graduate Center yesterday to take part in a discussion on the wellbeing of
children and families in New York City, co-sponsored by the Future of Children, the New York City
Office of Child Support Enforcement, and CUNY.
"The heart of the community is
the family. We at the Office of Child Support Enforcement [OCSE] are about work
and we are about families," said Federal Commissioner for the Office of Child
Support Enforcement Vicki Turetsky in her opening remarks. Child support is not only an important
anti-poverty strategy for children but has also been positively associated with
other important child outcomes, like academic achievement.
Executive Deputy Commissioner of NYC's Human Resources Administration
Frances Pardus-Abbadessa explained that automated child support collection is
working effectively for the majority of parents. However, traditional
enforcement tools have been less effective for the approximately 25 percent of
parents who owe child support, but have limited ability to pay. Approximately
70 percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents earning no or
Columbia University's Irwin Garfinkel and Rutgers University's Lenna
Nepomnyaschy, working with data from Princeton's Fragile Families study,
showed that the vast majority of parents want to be engaged and financially
supportive in their child's life at his or her birth. But that involvement
declines over time, which is when child support plays an increasingly important
How can systems better connect with the families and parents that are
the most difficult to reach?
The group divided into three breakout sessions: one focused on family
wellbeing, another focused on incarceration, and a third focused on employment.
The groups returned with a few suggestions:
--Find ways to connect parents to employment. Incentivize the placement
of formerly incarcerated parents for employers and workforce development
agencies and continue policies and programs that cap child support debt for
--Increase efforts to involve fathers in their children's lives from
birth, and build OCSE mediation programs to encourage better coparenting
relationships. As keynote speaker Princeton's Hillard Pouncy suggested, engaged
fathers will be more likely to contribute financially.
--Continue finding ways to improve the image of the child support system
through collaborations with workforce agencies, fatherhood programs, domestic
violence coalitions, mediation and parenting services, and social service
Additional and more specific recommendations were offered and discussed
by a panel including Larry Mead of New York University, Commissioner of the NYC
Human Resources Administration Robert Doar, Vicki Turetsky, and the Center for
Court Innovation's Liberty Aldrich. Breakout session speakers included Maureen Waller
of Columbia University, James McHale of the University of South Florida,
Petersburg, Mark Kleiman of Community Mediation Services, George T. McDonald of
the Doe Fund, Kathleen Coughlin from NYC's Department ofProbation, Amanda Geller of Columbia University, Virginia
Cruickshank of F.E.G.S., Elaine Sorenson from The Urban Institute and James
Riccio of MDRC.
For more information on this topic, visit the Future of Children'sFragile
Families volume, specifically the chapter by Robert Lerman on Capabilities
and Contributions of Unwed Fathers.
By Lauren Moore on October 11, 2011 11:19 AM
In conjunction with National Work and Family month, on Wednesday,
October 5, Princeton-Brookings released a new volume of the Future
of Children entitled Work
"The dilemma that we face is that parents act as the hub of service
delivery for their children and elderly relatives. They provide direct care
themselves, and they also coordinate other care that their family members
receive...But most parents and most elder
caregivers are also employed, and that leads to work-family conflict," opened
issue editor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University at the Brookings Institution
Three demographic changes have increased work-family conflicts for both
mothers and fathers: mothers' continued entry into the workforce, high divorce
rates, and the growing elderly population. And unlike other nations with
advanced economies, the U.S. has very modest government policies requiring
employers to give their workers benefits such as paid family leave and child
care. The United States federal government provides only unpaid leave - and only for some parents
- to care for newborns or sick family members and most parents do not qualify
for government child care programs.
and Family shows that providing short to moderate periods of paid
parental leave (from three to twelve months) for all workers, is likely to have
positive benefits for child and family wellbeing, and is unlikely to have
negative repercussions in the labor market. It also explains the ways that
increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and care could ease
work-family conflicts and promote sizable gains in school readiness for
But, given the difficult state of the American economy and the large,
growing federal deficit, what can we realistically expect from federal policy
makers in this area?
Rather than focus on broad policy change, discussions at the Brookings Institution
event focused on the role that state and local governments, as well as
employers, might play in helping families deal with the demands of work, namely,
by promoting workplace flexibility.
"Allowing employees more control over their hours and more flexibility
to adjust hours or work location when family demands arise can lead to
increased employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention. Far from representing
a cost to employers, such policies, if well designed to take into account the
needs of both employers and employees, can yield benefits," notes Work
and Family, a finding which was echoed at Brookings by Ernst & Young's
Flexibility Strategy Leader Maryella Gockel and volume author and Co-Founder
and President of the Families and
Work Institute Ellen Galinsky.
Unfortunately, as Galinsky, Waldfogel, and Brookings' Ron Haskins all mentioned, low-income
employees, who often have the greatest need for workplace flexibility,
generally have the least access to it.
Heather Boushey, volume author and Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress, took
this point further, suggesting that workplace flexibility is the 'next step' in anti-poverty
"We did all that work on welfare
reform in the 1990's," said Boushey, "that encouraged low income individuals,
especially women, to work... and so [workplace flexibility] must be the next step,
right? We want that single Mom in the workplace, but we have to make sure that
she can stay in the workplace, that she can hold on to her job while taking
care of her children." Employer flexibility policies that allow parents
flexible time off when children are sick, paid sick leave when parents themselves
are sick, and leave arrangements for the birth of a child can help low-income
individuals maintain their income, and hopefully head off poverty.
And there is also a role for local and state policy makers to play. Over
the past few months, even in the depths of this recession, paid sick days were
enacted into law in the state of Connecticut, in the city of Seattle, and
passed in the city of Philadelphia (although not yet signed by the mayor).
By Wade C. Jacobsen on October 4, 2011 2:37 PM
As indicated in the new Work
and Family volume of Future of
Children, American society's composition and family roles have changed
dramatically since Leave It to Beaver,
with the majority of American women employed outside the home, an explosion of
single-parent families, and older Americans increasingly needing care from younger
relatives. These changes greatly complicate the challenges of meeting family
responsibilities while holding down a job, note journal editors Sara McLanahan
of Princeton, Jane Waldfogel of Columbia, and Brookings senior fellow Ron
As demographics have changed, so have workplaces, which may have
negative consequences for children and families. Today, one out of five employed
Americans works varying hours or works outside the standard hours of 8 to 4
more than half the time. Parents who work nonstandard hours spend less time
with each other and with their children. Moreover, mothers' nonstandard hours
are linked to lower cognitive scores among preschoolers.
Increasing workplace flexibility - the
availability of work schedules that allow for balance between family and work -
is one logical solution that employers can voluntarily implement to ease
work-family tensions. Although some research has suggested that this may still
impact parents' career growth, evidence of the benefits continues to mount.
Researchers find that greater access to flexibility is linked to higher job
satisfaction, engagement, and employee health. One example underscored by Work
and Family is a Houston, Texas community effort. Through the promotion of
workplace flexibility, the city reduced traffic congestion, lessened pollution,
and helped employers increase productivity.
The best workers may be attracted to family-friendly
workplaces, and often that provides an incentive for change.For example, The
White House and National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the
"NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative," a ten-year plan to support American
scientists and their families. New workplace flexibility policies will allow
researchers to postpone or suspend grants for up to one year for parental
leave, childbirth, and adoption. The new policies will make it easier for women
to pursue careers in engineering and science. NSF plans to support research on
workplace flexibility policies and calls on other research institutes and
universities to adopt similar policies.
By Wade C. Jacobsen on September 19, 2011 11:34 AM
More people are living below the official poverty line
($22,314 for a family of four in 2010) than have been since the Census Bureau
began publishing data on it, reports The New York Times. Over two and a
half million dropped below this line last year, bringing the number of poor
Americans to 46.2 million. A crumbling economy and shifting demographics are
among the reasons for this increase, but according to economists, unemployment
is the biggest issue, as 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work a single
week last year.
While the effects of unemployment and a weak economy are
felt by many, the hardest hit are racial and ethnic minorities, particularly blacks
and Latinos, whose poverty levels are at 27% and 26% respectively. Explained in
The Future of Children volume The
Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies, of particular concern are nonwhite
young men. In few locations is this more evident than in New York City, where
one study of five boroughs found the poverty rate for black and Latino young
men to be 50 percent higher, and the unemployment rate 60 percent higher, than
that of their white and Asian counterparts.
According to the Huffington Post, one factor that
might play a part in the high unemployment rates for these young men is the
high percentage of racial and ethnic minorities now incarcerated. One in eight
black males in their twenties is in prison or jail on any given day. Devah
Pager, Princeton University professor and research associate for the Center for
Research on Child Wellbeing, reports that within one year after release, up to
75 percent of ex-convicts are still without work.
These figures represent a crisis that New York City Deputy
Mayor Gibbs says demands an urgent response, "New York City is going to send a
signal that the situation facing young black and Latino men requires the same
kind of aggressive, cross-agency response that a natural disaster would demand,
because fixing these outcomes is critical to the City's health and future." The
"signal" he refers to is the initiation of a public-private partnership presented
by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg early last month in an effort to cut down
barriers to employment. The strategy, dubbed the Young
Men's Initiative, involves investments of over $127 million over the next
three years into policies and programs that will connect young men in the City
to educational, employment, and mentoring opportunities, and will include an
overhaul of the Department of Probation, which supervises nearly 30,000 New
Yorkers, most of whom are black and Latino men.
An important component of Mayor Bloomberg's initiative, as
highlighted by the Huffington Post, is new policy regarding the hiring process for City positions.
City agencies are to prohibit questions about prior convictions from the
initial job interview; only after this first stage will applicants be asked
about their criminal history. They must still submit themselves to a background
check, but their offenses will be examined in view of the job requirements.
In the past, some opposition
has been reported for these so-called "Ban-the-Box" policies, which have been
practiced in other states and major cities. Business owners may not consider it
wise to invest resources toward applicants, only to find they have a criminal
record and choose not to hire them. Still, the purpose of such policy is to help
young adults get a leg up, many of whom are otherwise good candidates for some
positions. As Washington works to tackle the nation's unemployment in an effort
to prevent more from slipping below the poverty line, could they benefit from
looking to cities like New York as an example? The Future of Children'sTransition
to Adulthood volume stresses the need to provide opportunities to those who
are willing to work but have difficulty finding steady employment because of a
criminal history or other circumstances. Some of these include extending the
age of eligibility of youth-serving programs into young adulthood and moving
from a set of independent systems into a single integrated system.
By Melanie E. Wright on August 31, 2010 12:07 PM
A recent New York Times Magazine article about today's 20-something's has gone viral, with countless electronically connected young people circulating the story about how their cohort is changing all the rules when it comes to transitioning to adulthood. They are in a sort of limbo, "forestalling the beginning of adult life," as they extend their schooling, jump between career paths, and delay marriage and childbearing. This article notes some of the cultural forces feeding this trend: a sluggish job market and the increasing need for post-secondary education in today's workforce are two major reasons for the shift. But the article misses a critical part of the story: how have these changes affected low-income, disadvantaged young adults?
In fact, this elongated transition worsens already existing disparities between disadvantaged youth and their more educated, higher income counterparts.
Covered in detail in the latest volume of The Future of Children, the shift from childhood to full adulthood places great strain on both young people and their families. Although governmental programs provide some support for disadvantaged children, the burden falls primarily on private institutions or interpersonal networks for those 18 and older. Across the income spectrum, parents are spending about ten percent of their income to support young adult children, but ten percent of a lower or middle class income provides fewer opportunities than a comparable portion of an upper-middle or upper class family salary. Moreover, for a family already struggling financially, providing for an adult child can be very stressful.
More affluent parents may help children by offering them rent-free housing, monetary support, or a potential safety net while the children experiment with low-paying jobs or unpaid internships. In addition, they can help emerging adults establish themselves by providing loans or assistance towards buying a car or house. Such assets help young adults build up capital and transition more smoothly into stable careers and family life. Less wealthy parents may not be able to provide their children with the same advantages without incurring major costs. Their resources are more limited and available money may be less reliable from year-to-year. As a result, these more disadvantaged children may fall even further behind their peers.
In addition, parents assist their children by connecting them to other networks of support, including people who may help them advance their careers and institutions that facilitate transitions. One such institution is college. Private colleges, more heavily populated by more affluent youth, tend to offer extensive support to help students develop at least partial autonomy, such as on-campus housing, extensive activities and entertainment, adult and peer support, health care, and counseling or other resources to guide students into jobs and post-college life. Community colleges, which are more in reach for many lower-income families, offer their students far less support and far fewer opportunities, thus deepening disadvantages.
Another trend widening the gap between young people is the timing of having children. While young people spanning the socioeconomic range are marrying later, less affluent young people are forming families while still in their late teens and early twenties, often outside of marriage. The responsibilities that accompany parenthood - from medical needs to childcare - pose additional challenges to completing an education and maintaining a steady job. To make matters worse, many young, unmarried parents break up shortly after their child is born, and young mothers often turn to their own mothers for help. Middle and upper class youth that wait until married with a stable career to have children are much better equipped to handle these additional costs and demands without relying on overburdened families. Without parents or public programs that can assist them, more disadvantaged youth continue to struggle with the assumption of adult roles.
As this widely-experienced yet new phase of maturation becomes more studied and understood, effort needs to be made to make sure that those emerging adults who are already disadvantaged - from impoverished families, with weak family ties, exiting foster care, requiring special education, or leaving the juvenile justice system - do not fall further behind. Whether by expanding social services beyond age eighteen or increasing the counseling and lifestyle support aspects of community college, society must help provide 20-somethings the assistance they need to transition into healthy, productive adult lives.
By Melanie E. Wright on October 28, 2009 11:41 AM
In the thirteen years since welfare reform was enacted, many people have moved off welfare and into jobs. Some have exited poverty altogether. Many remain on welfare, however, or have used up their time on welfare but continue to face significant challenges to steady employment. This population is disproportionally made up of single mothers, often dealing with obstacles to work such as low levels of education, substance abuse, mental illness, and poor health. States offer, to varying degrees, supports such as child care, transportation, and job training -- assistance that is critical to these women’s employment prospects.
The current recession has forced states to reduce expenditures, so work support programs are vulnerable to being cut. For example, cash-strapped California has offered women on welfare with young children the option of foregoing work requirements in return for giving up child care and other work supports. Interestingly, few women have accepted this offer thus far, so California may even require some mothers to take the welfare check without work requirements or supplemental programs. While economically beneficial for California in the short term, this policy could counteract anti-poverty measures in the long run. California’s action also could influence other states, furthering a policy that works against providing single mothers critical support as they make their way off cash assistance and into work.
As an article in The Future of Children’s Anti-Poverty issue explains, child care assistance helps families stay in jobs and have more disposable income. Although low-income families purchase less expensive care than higher-income families, child care comprises a larger portion of their expenditures. Since child care is necessary for working parents, so also are the subsidies to low-income working mothers, who would otherwise not be able to afford to have someone watch their children. In addition, employment assistance is necessary for mothers facing barriers to work such as mental and physical health problems or substance abuse.
One benefit of welfare-to-work programs has been an increase in mothers’ take-home earnings, which can improve family circumstances in many ways. Work coupled with child care subsidies, transportation assistance, Medicaid, and other such programs offers low-income mothers an opportunity to meet their families’ basic needs.
For mothers encountering multiple barriers to work, leaving them able to work only in a limited capacity if at all, cash assistance and work supports are critical. Unfortunately, California’s short term need to cut support programs could hurt vulnerable women just starting to make their way into some level of self-sufficiency.