One in seven American children lives in poverty. according to the Center for American Progress. Despite the nation’s wealth, the United States has one of the worst child poverty rates among similarly developed countries.
A new survey by Vox and Data for Progress shows that, despite the popularity of child welfare programs, one of the reasons we haven’t helped millions of children may be an issue that has haunted public welfare programs for decades: widespread concern that some might reap these benefits.
Sen. Mitt Romney’s introduction of the Family Security Act earlier this month focused child poverty on national political talk and received praise from conservative and liberal sources alike. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews explained, “the bill is revising the current child tax credit, converting it from an annual bonus to a massive income support paid monthly by the Social Security Agency,” which would not only help parents with significant incomes, but also poorly paid families too.
But the Utah Republican’s surprising bill sparked a backlash from Republicans and some conservative researchers.
In a statement released on the day the bill went live, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) named Romney’s plan “welfare” and stated that “being pro-family is pro-work.” Assuming that families received this benefit would lead them to stay at home. Scott Winship, director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute’s conservative think tank, also spoke out against the plan, citing concerns in an interview with Ezra Klein of the New York Times that single mothers could afford not to work .
Several prominent researchers, including Sam Hammond, director of poverty and welfare at the Niskanen Center’s right-wing think tank, and Matt Darling, an economist at Ideas42, a behavioral economics nonprofit, have cited several research countering these claims. In a debate with Winship, Hammond said that even if people work less with the extended benefit, “We are talking about an hour of lost work per week” – in return for the lifting of 5.1 million people out of poverty.
But, as always, welfare policy can be more important than reality. In the Data for Progress / Vox poll, conducted February 12-15 of 1,169 likely voters, respondents were told that “some lawmakers in Congress are proposing the creation of a child benefit … open to all middle-class families and families with low income. If this program is put in place, how concerned or not concerned would you be that some single mothers would slightly reduce the number of hours they work per week for a wage? “
A majority (57 percent) of respondents said they were somewhat or very concerned, including 49 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Independents.
Data for Progress / Vox poll February 12-15, 2021 of 1,169 likely voters.
To be clear, the survey on Providing Money for Children is incredibly popular. In another survey on Data for Progress, 68 percent support a child benefit plan with a large majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
Given the possibility that single mothers, scapegoated as “welfare queens” in the past, could cut their hours slightly, the American electorate is showing its longstanding commitment to what is known as the “dignity of work”. The myth of the welfare queen was popularized by President Ronald Reagan, who portrayed the welfare system as riddled with fraud and abuse by undeserved actors, and fueled sentiment against blacks and the poor.
Neither Romney’s plan nor a similar plan was made public of Democrats would offer almost enough to continue living without work.
While Romney’s plan, launched earlier this month, would be “one of the most generous child support packages ever, regardless of political party,” as Matthews reported, it would be only $ 3,000 to $ 4,200 a year per child. The plan would give parents a flat monthly allowance; those with kids up to 5 years old would get $ 350 a month, and those with kids 6-17 years old would get $ 250 a month – certainly not enough to make a living on. Similarly, the Democrats’ plan, quickly announced after Romney unveiled his, would run between $ 3,000 and $ 3,600 per year.
However, the fact remains that Americans are ready to scapegoat single parents (especially mothers) for not working hard enough or not. Republican senators have already shown they are ready to strike that chord if these plans are met with enough approval.
Previous surveys by Vox and Data for Progress have examined how the American electorate’s commitment to ensuring “fairness” in the distribution of government benefits can undermine the effectiveness of these programs and harm millions of people in need.
It remains to be seen whether concerns about single mothers, who are being exonerated by the government, will offset the possibility of lifting millions of children out of poverty.