"The combination of policy and program packages we recommend were designed in a way that not only reduces poverty but also increases employment among low-income adults, providing evidence-based solutions for two important issues that the nation cares about," says Greg Duncan, UCI Distinguished Professor of education and chair of the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children Living in Poverty by Half in 10 Years. Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 28, 2019 — Child poverty in America could be decreased by 50 percent in a decade through a combination of work-oriented and income support programs, according to a national panel chaired by Greg Duncan, Distinguished Professor of education at the University of California, Irvine. The Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children Living in Poverty by Half in 10 Years today announced its recommendations, based on a two-year evaluation of 20 program and policy ideas.

“The future prosperity of our country depends on our children growing up to be healthy and productive adults, and the fact that nearly10 million children are living under the poverty line compromises their development and future prospects,” Duncan said. “The real innovation in the committee’s work was to develop packages of programs combining different elements – some increasing work, others decreasing child poverty – that meet the overall 50 percent reduction in child poverty goal while at the same time increasing employment among low-income adults.”

Current estimates of the macroeconomic costs of children growing up in poor families range from $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually. In 2016, Congress passed a bill directing the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a comprehensive study of child poverty in the United States and identify evidence-based methods of cutting it in half.

The National Academies committee examined 10 program and policy options designed to support employment, such as the earned income tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit, and to support income, such as housing vouchers and food stamps. Two variations of every option were considered, providing 20 scenarios in all. Each was analyzed to determine the extent to which it would decrease child poverty and change employment levels among low-income adults, as well as its estimated cost.

“We found that none of the individual programs was able to lessen child poverty by the full 50 percent,” Duncan said. “But when we combined work-oriented and income support program enhancements, we were able to accomplish two goals that the nation cares about: reducing poverty and increasing employment.”

The committee’s “means-tested supports and work package” expands the earned income and child care tax credit, housing voucher program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at an estimated cost of $90.7 billion per year. It’s projected to cut child poverty in half and increase the number of low-income working adults by about 400,000.

The “universal supports and work package” rewards employment through expansion of the tax credits and an increase in the minimum wage, and it enhances income security by offering a child allowance and child support assurance and eliminating the 1996 restrictions on social benefits for legal immigrants. At an estimated cost of $108.8 billion per year, it’s expected to cut child poverty in half and boost employment by more than 600,000.

For about $44 billion per year, a promising smaller package that expands three tax credits is projected to slash child poverty by a third, rather than a half, while at the same time increasing employment and earnings.

“We’ve developed a road map – a set of options – for policymakers 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.”

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