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Proposals from panel led by UCI professor aim to cut nation’s childhood poverty by half in a decade

“The combination of policy and program packages we recommend were designed in a way that not only re
Greg Duncan, a UC Irvine professor of education, led a committee that proposed four potential packages for reducing the number of American children living in poverty.
(Steve Zylius / UC Irvine)

After two years of research, a panel led by a UC Irvine professor released recommendations Thursday that it said could reduce childhood poverty in the United States by up to half in 10 years.

The 598-page report, requested by Congress in December 2015, focuses on the causes of childhood poverty as opposed to the result of it. It details four potential packages the committee said would likely lower the percentage of children in poverty.

Each package focuses on different combinations of individual and collective programs drafted by the panel. The programs focus on factors in alleviating poverty, such as employment, expansion of tax credits and expansion of food-purchasing assistance and other government programs.

Two options — the “work-oriented package” and the “work and universal support package” — missed the 50% reduction goal.

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“[The work-oriented package] reduced poverty by about 19% instead of the full 50%, although at the same time, cost relatively little [about $8.7 billion annually],” said Greg Duncan, a UCI professor of education who chaired the committee appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. “But the answer to whether we can achieve dramatic reductions in child poverty using only work-oriented programs appears to be no.”

The work and universal support package would add to that by combining expansions of the earned income and child care tax credit with a $2,000 allowance meant to replace the latter.

It would achieve a 36% reduction in poverty and 41% in deep poverty and cost about $44.5 billion a year, the panel said.

The remaining two programs — the “means-tested supports and work package” and the “universal supports and work package” — would meet the 50% poverty reduction rate and cost an estimated $90.7 billion and $108.8 billion a year, respectively, the group said.

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The means-tested supports and work package would expand on the tax credits in the first two programs in addition to expanding food-purchasing benefits and housing vouchers. Along with reaching the poverty goal, it is projected to increase the number of low-income working adults by about 400,000.

The universal supports and work package similarly expands the two tax credits but adds the child allowance, a child support assurance program, an increased minimum wage and elimination of eligibility restrictions on welfare programs for legal immigrants. It is projected to boost employment by more than 600,000.

Cost estimates for the packages were calculated using a simulation based on a representative sample of about 100,000 U.S. households, Duncan said. The simulation tests policy proposals by identifying households that are eligible for the additional benefits, then calculating whether the benefits would push them above the poverty line. The simulation also calculates the amount of benefits received and adds up the collective cost.

The panel didn’t recommend any package in particular, Duncan said. It was tasked principally with providing ideas on how to approach poverty. Details such as how to fund and implement each proposal are up to policy makers, Duncan said.

“We’ve developed a road map — a set of options — for policy makers and the public they serve to review, analyze and decide what kind of legislation they want to enact,” Duncan said. “Acting on this report’s conclusions and recommendations will not only accomplish dramatic reductions in child poverty but also build a healthier and more prosperous nation.”

The National Center for Children in Poverty says that about 41% of American children lived in low-income households in 2016 and an estimated 19% were considered poor.

In Orange County, an estimated 24.3% of children live in or near poverty, according to a report last year by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Gregory Scott, president of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, a nonprofit that works to prevent and eliminate poverty, said he believes the panel and its recommendations are “on the right track” because they acknowledge that multiple factors contribute to poverty rather than focusing on single components like low wages or food disparity.

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“When you’re in poverty as a child, just the lack of basic necessities — food, affordable healthcare, living in substandard housing — all those things contribute to a cycle of poverty,” Scott said. “If you don’t begin to deal with all three generations [of a family], then that cycle will continue.”

Estimates of the cost of childhood poverty to the nation range from $800 billion to $1.1 trillion annually, which Duncan said are derived from factors such as a reduced labor market, higher healthcare expenses and increased interaction with the justice system.

“All those things cost money,” he said. “Thinking about the $8.7 billion to the $108.8 billion, you have to keep in mind how much poverty is costing the nation every year.”


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