Children and the US Social Safety Net: Balancing Disincentives for Adults and Benefits for Children

“Economic research on the safety net has evolved over time, moving away from a focus on the negative incentive effects of means-tested assistance on employment, earnings, marriage, and fertility to include the potential positive benefits of such programs to children. Initially, this research on benefits to children focused on short-run impacts, but as we accumulated knowledge about skill production and better data became available, the research evolved further to include important long-run economic outcomes such as employment, earnings, and mortality. Once the positive long-run benefits to children are considered, many safety net programs are cost-effective. However, the current government practice of limiting the time horizon for cost-benefit calculations of policy initiatives often fails to take this into account. Finally, we discuss why child poverty in the United States is still higher than most OECD countries and how research on children and the safety net can better inform policy-making.”


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