The Invisible Safety Net

The Invisible Safety Net: Protecting the Nation's Poor Children and Families

Janet M. Currie
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Invisible Safety Net
    Book Description:

    In one of the most provocative books ever published on America's social welfare system, economist Janet Currie argues that the modern social safety net is under attack.

    Unlike most books about antipoverty programs, Currie trains her focus not on cash welfare, which accounts for a small and shrinking share of federal expenditures on poor families with children, but on the staples of today's American welfare system: Medicaid, Food Stamps, Head Start, WIC, and public housing. These programs, Currie maintains, form an effective, if largely invisible and haphazard safety net, and yet they are the very programs most vulnerable to political attack and misunderstanding.

    This book highlights both the importance and the fragility of this safety net, arguing that, while not perfect, it is essential to fighting poverty. Currie demonstrates how America's safety net is threatened by growing budget deficits and by an erroneous public belief that antipoverty programs for children do not work and are riddled with fraud.

    By unearthing new empirical data, Currie makes the case that social programs for families with children are actually remarkably effective. She takes her argument one step further by offering specific reforms--detailed in each chapter--for improving these programs even more. The book concludes with an overview of an integrated safety net that would fight poverty more effectively and prevent children from slipping through holes in the net. (For example, Currie recommends the implementation of a benefit "debit card" that would provide benefits with less administrative burden on the recipient.)

    A complement to books such as Barbara Ehrenreich's bestsellingNickel and Dimed, which document the personal struggles of the working poor,The Invisible Safety Netprovides a big-picture look at the kind of programs and solutions that would help ease those struggles. Comprehensive and authoritative, it will prompt a major reexamination of the current thinking on improving the lives of needy Americans.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2699-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1994, welfare caseloads reached a historic high of 5.1 million families, about 15 percent of all American households. Since then, the welfare rolls have been cut in half, partly as a result of the strong economy of the late 1990s, and partly as a result of radical welfare reform, which began in 1996, when the Clinton administration fulfilled a pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” The administration eliminated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the main cash welfare program for poor women and children in the United States, which had given cash payments directly to eligible...

  5. Chapter 1 Welfare vs. “Making Work Pay”
    (pp. 11-32)

    Ronald Reagan hit a nerve with his story about a Cadillac-driving Chicago “Welfare Queen” who used 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands to defraud the government of $150,000. In truth, the woman he was referring to had used two aliases to collect $8,000 in overpayments, but the truth did not matter. The public was outraged because the story fit negative perceptions about welfare.¹

    A survey taken in the 1980s found that 41 percent of Americans thought that too much was being spent on welfare, and that only 25 percent thought that too...

  6. Chapter 2 In Sickness and in Health: The Importance of Public Health Insurance
    (pp. 33-60)

    Maria Torres had just lost Medicaid coverage for her two young sons. The program requires recipients to reapply for the program every six months. This time, Maria’s monthly earnings had exceeded the state income cutoff for the program by $200. She immediately cut back on her hours as a domestic so that she would be able to qualify the next month. But four-year-old Roberto relies on medication to control his asthma and urgently needed to have his prescription renewed. Maria was shocked to find that Roberto’s usual doctor would not see him because the family lacked insurance. She took time...

  7. Chapter 3 Feeding the Hungry: Food Stamps, School Nutrition Programs, and WIC
    (pp. 61-89)

    One in five Americans uses a federal food program every day. The creation of the food safety net began in earnest in 1946 with the creation of the National School Lunch Program. The nation was in shock over the large number of young men called up for World War II who were unfit for service because of nutrition-related deficiencies. By the age of twenty, many would-be draftees had already lost all their teeth, while others suffered from rickets, knock knees, or other skeletal deformations. In 1968, a group of physicians issued “Hunger in America,” a landmark report documenting appalling levels...

  8. Chapter 4 Home Sweet Home?
    (pp. 90-112)

    For some, the words “public housing” conjure indelible images of horrific crimes. In October 1992, seven-year-old Dantrell Davis was walking to school holding his mother’s hand when he was shot in the face by a sniper in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green project. In September 1993, nine-year-old Anthony Felton was hit by cross fire and killed while playing in front of his home, also in Cabrini-Green. In October 1994, the senseless violence in the Chicago projects hit a new low with the torture and murder of five-year-old Eric Morse, who was hurled out a fourteenth floor window in the Ida B. Well’s...

  9. Chapter 5 Who’s Minding the Kids?
    (pp. 113-138)

    Anne Adkisson left welfare in 2001 to take an $8.66 per hour job as an aide in a child-care center. With state subsidies, she could afford to send her two-year-old to a child-care center and enroll her nine-year-old in an after-school program. In 2003, state cutbacks eliminated her child-care subsidy. Unable to pay $125 per week for child care, she began leaving the toddler with relatives and leaving work early to pick up the nine-year-old from school. She laments that her daughter is “missing out” on what she would learn at the center. Shorter hours are also making it more...

  10. Chapter 6 Defending and Mending the Safety Net
    (pp. 139-156)

    There are good and concrete theoretical reasons to argue for the role of government in alleviating poverty. One of the most important arguments in favor of government involvement is the existence of “market failures”—something that prevents free markets from providing the efficient allocation of resources. Take Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman’s explanation of why private charity may never be sufficient to deal with the problem of poverty alleviation. In “Capitalism and Freedom,” Friedman argues that all individuals benefit from all charity—their own as well as their neighbors’. As he put it, “It can be argued that private charity is...

  11. Appendix Table 1
    (pp. 157-158)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 159-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-203)