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The Safety Net Got a Quick Patch. What Happens After the Coronavirus?

  • April 01, 2020

Despite the declines, child poverty in the United States remains higher than in most similar countries. About 17.2 percent of American children live on less than half the median income, said Timothy Smeeding, an economist at the University of Wisconsin, citing data from Luxembourg Income Study. That compares to 11.9 percent in Canada, 10.2 percent in the United Kingdom, and 9.4 percent in Ireland. The United States also spends less on needy families as a share of its economy.

“We should be doing better,” Mr. Smeeding said.

A landmark report last year from the National Academy of Sciences showed early deprivation leaves lasting scars — poor children on average are less healthy as adults, lower earnings and higher arrest rates.

Importantly, the group found these problems came at least in part from the lack of money itself, and not just related factors like family structure or low parental education. It also found that safety net programs, by raising incomes, reduced the damage.

“The weight of the evidence shows additional resources help kids,” said Greg Duncan, an economist at the University of California-Irvine who led the study group.

Citing such findings, many progressives support a child allowance — a guaranteed income for families with children. The National Academy of Sciences found an annual benefit of $3,000 per child would reduce child poverty by 41 percent.

“Even in good times incomes are very volatile, especially for low-income families,” said Ms. Waldforgel, the Columbia professor, who has studied such allowances in Europe. “A child allowance protects children from swings in the economy.”

Andrew Yang’s star turn in the Democratic presidential primaries was also built on the pledge of an income guarantee — $1,000 a month for every adult.

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