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Saving Our Children From Poverty

Saving Our Children From Poverty: What the United States Can Learn From France

Barbara R. Bergmann
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610440455
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  • Book Info
    Saving Our Children From Poverty
    Book Description:

    More than one in five American children live below the poverty line, a proportion that exceeds that of any other advanced nation. Although large numbers of Western European children live with single or unemployed parents, or belong to disadvantaged minorities, they are better shielded from severe deprivation by carefully designed public assistance programs.Saving Our Children from Povertydescribes one of the most successful European systems of assistance for families, that of France, and through comparison with American programs offers a valuable guide to improving our own safety net for children and reforming our dysfunctional welfare system.

    Saving Our Children from Povertydetails the array of benefits available to both high- and low-income families in France. Government-run nursery schools provide free, high-quality care for almost all children between the ages of three and six. Children also receive guaranteed medical care under a national health insurance plan. The French system offers married couples most of the same benefits as single parents, and creates strong incentives to seek and hold jobs rather than remain on welfare. A French single mother who chooses to work still receives substantial income supplements, housing assistance, subsidized health care, and access to public child care facilities. In stark contrast, her American counterpart loses most of her cash benefits if she takes a job and receives no government assistance with child care. Because American policies focus disproportionately on aiding the poorest non-working families, parents forced to rely on low-wage jobs are frequently left without the resources to provide their children with an adequate standard of living.

    As the public debate on welfare reform continues to rage, ever more American children fall into poverty. Why does the nation remain so unresponsive to their plight?Saving Our Children from Povertyprobes the American aversion to national assistance programs, citing the negative attitudes that have seeped into the current political discourse. A lack of faith in the federal government's administrative abilities has bolstered a trend toward decentralization of programs, as well as a growing resistance to taxation. Racial antipathies and a belief that financial support encourages irresponsibility further undermine the development of programs for those in need.

    Saving Our Children from Povertyillustrates what a nation no wealthier than ours can realistically accomplish and afford, and concludes with a viable blueprint for successfully applying aspects of France's system to the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-045-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. TABLES
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Barbara R. Bergmann
  5. Part I Two Countries, Two Responses

    • CHAPTER 1 How Two Countries Respond to Children’s Needs
      (pp. 3-11)

      Millions of children in the United States live in deprivation and in circumstances that endanger their well-being and their chances of becoming reasonably happy, productive, and law-abiding citizens. Many of these children live in dwellings with broken ceilings and toilets, receive inadequate care, and have no guaranteed access to medical attention. Many are in danger of abuse and violence from individuals in their families and neighborhoods. Many enter the first grade unready for schooling, set for failure.

      In 1993, 23 percent of our children were living below the official poverty line.¹ Of such children, the bipartisan National Commission on Children...

    • CHAPTER 2 Differences in Spending and Program Design
      (pp. 12-24)

      The simplest way to compare the effects of American and French programs on child poverty is to think about a single mother in each of the two countries and about the situation she faces. Assume that both of the mothers have had a couple of children outside of marriage, a common occurrence in both countries as we have seen.

      The American mother can go on welfare and stay home with her children, or she can try to support herself and her children by getting a job. If she depends on welfare, she might get benefits worth about $7,500 a year,...

  6. Part II French Programs for Child Well-Being

    • CHAPTER 3 Government Child-Care Programs in France
      (pp. 27-49)

      The french national and local governments give parents a great deal of help in caring for their pre-elementary school children. The government runs a system of free nursery schools and provides thousands of highly subsidized places in daycare centers for infants and toddlers up to age three whose mothers have jobs. In addition to running and paying for extensive childcare facilities, the French government also gives cash benefits and tax breaks to parents who buy child care on the private market. The cost to French taxpayers of these facilities, benefits, and subsidies added up to 64 billion francs in 1991.¹...

    • CHAPTER 4 French Payments to Raise Children’s Living Standards
      (pp. 50-69)

      The french government’s cash and housing benefits are the most expensive components of its program for children’s wellbeing.¹ These programs cost the French government 135.7 billion francs—equivalent to $96.4 billion for the United States—in 1991. An additional 50 billion francs ($36 billion in our terms) are given out as income tax breaks. The benefit levels change each year, along with the minimum wage, and they keep up with cost-of-living changes. Although conservative governments have been elected in recent years, the programs described here are not under significant attack in France, despite the huge expenses they entail.² These programs...

    • CHAPTER 5 Medical Services for Child Well-Being in France
      (pp. 70-88)

      France, like almost all of the world’s high-income countries except the United States, maintains a system of national health insurance that gives all legal residents—and thus all of their children—access to medical care. Since the end of World War II, France has also maintained a special public health service network, theProtection Maternelle et Infantile(PMI), whose mission is preventive care for pregnant women and children. It systematically maintains computerized records on virtually every pregnant woman and every new baby in France. It successfully pushes prenatal exams and timely immunizations for all, and actively offers help to families...

  7. Part III American Programs for Children, Past and Future

    • CHAPTER 6 American Programs for Children: Keeping Millions Deprived
      (pp. 91-116)

      As we have seen, American programs designed to aid families with children cost $146 billion of public money in 1991, exclusive of spending for schooling in grades one through twelve. The high incidence of poverty among American children testifies to the inadequacy of these programs and their flawed design. They have been ripe for reform for decades, but despite the tinkering that has been attempted since the late 1960s, their basic structure has been only slightly modified. The most recent idea of conservatives in Congress was to decentralize control of these programs, reduce federal expenditure on them in real terms,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Reducing Child Poverty by Helping Working Parents
      (pp. 117-138)

      How are we to design and pay for a system of programs in the United States that would enable more families to live above the poverty line? As the previous chapters have shown, French programs accomplish this by giving a great deal of help to parents who hold low-paying jobs. In order to do that, the French spend heavily in three areas: providing child care, providing health care, and providing income supplements, including help with rent. A major theme of this chapter is that government help with child care and health insurance, covered by vouchers rather than by cash grants,...

    • CHAPTER 8 Can We Conquer Child Poverty in America Through Political Action?
      (pp. 139-152)

      In the near term, there is little chance that the United States will move toward a system for fighting child poverty modeled on that of the French. That would require much greater expenditure and more federal administrative supervision. Rather, the United States appears to be moving toward a system that puts fewer resources into helping low-income families with children and devolves administrative responsibility onto the states while keeping the same basic pattern of the distribution of benefits—very little help to parents in low-wage jobs. The incidence of poverty among children in the United States has been rising, and these...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 153-174)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 175-184)