Journal Issue: Children and Poverty Volume 7 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1997
Prospects for Preventing and Reducing Child Poverty
The evidence reviewed here suggests that a lack of proven policy options is not the main obstacle to preventing and reducing child poverty in the United States. Policies to raise employment and earnings do work, but at their current size and intensity the increased earnings they produce have only a small impact on child poverty. If their scope and intensity were expanded aggressively, further earnings increases might result. Such efforts may need to be accompanied with expanded public outlays on child care for single-parent families to realize their highest potential.20 Large-scale public jobs programs are another alternative that could significantly reduce pretransfer poverty if a variety of obstacles to effective implementation can be overcome.45 Efforts along this line will probably be essential to prevent destitution among families that exceed the new five-year limit for receipt of cash welfare under PRWORA and still cannot find steady work.
Similarly, there are attractive options for improved income support. The assured child support benefit would increase economic security for children living apart from a parent. A refundable child tax credit in place of the dependent exemption in the federal and state income taxes would channel more income to the many families whose incomes are so low that they owe no income tax.40 Both options would increase government outlays, but would probably have very small behavioral side effects.
The decision to combat child poverty aggressively cannot turn on whether there will be some undesired side effects and unexpected outcomes, for these are inevitable in most social interventions. Instead, it should turn on whether the redistributive gains and long-run improvements in child well-being resulting from less poverty outweigh these negatives and are more worthy than other uses of the funds. It rests on the nation's political will to devote more resources to this end rather than on any hard economic or budgetary limits and will require a long-run commitment to sustain efforts and consider new approaches.46