History demonstrates child support lifts children out of poverty

Logo text: War on Poverty 50 YearsFor poor families in America, 1964 was a defining year because it set the stage for many of the social safety net programs we have today, including the child support program. While our program was not enacted for another decade, its establishment was part of the broader agenda to alleviate poverty in America.

In 1960, 27 percent of all children and 67 percent of black children were living in poverty. When President John F. Kennedy died in November 1963, Lyndon Johnson inherited a nation highly divided, with social programs that failed its poorest citizens. In his Jan. 8, 1964, State of the Union Address, President Johnson announced that his administration was declaring “a war on poverty in America,” and he urged Congress and the American public to join him in his effort. This became known as the War on Poverty.

During the speech, Johnson outlined his plan: “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.” Over the next several years, the president pushed through a variety of legislation that set out social services programs.

Two of those initial pieces of legislation that were important for child support were the August 1964 Economic Opportunity Act that created programs such as Head Start and the Food Stamp Act, which made the existing food stamp pilot program permanent, and the 1965 Amendments to the Social Security Act, which brought health care to millions because it gave us the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Other major anti-poverty programs followed in the 1970s, including the Supplemental Security Income program (established in 1972) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (established in 1975).  Both of these programs are now considered key elements of our social safety net, lifting millions of people out of poverty.

The child support program was part of the 1970s wave of anti-poverty programs. Enacted in 1975, our program has grown dramatically. In FY 2012, we delivered about $26 billion in child support to families in the program and another $4 billion to families outside it. That year, child support lifted nearly one million people out of poverty. Today, we serve 1 in 4 children and 1 in 2 poor children in the United States, three territories, and many Native American tribes.

Although the child support program is not means-tested like other social safety netScreenshot of report: Custodial Parents Living in Poverty programs, families served by the program tend to be poor or have relatively low incomes. A recent report shows that in 2009, 63 percent of the families in the child support program had incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold, and 89 percent had incomes below 400 percent of the poverty threshold (see the report on the OCSE website).

Moreover, families eligible for child support are often the same families helped by other social safety net programs. A new OCSE Story Behind the Numbers fact sheet shows that 4.2 million custodial families were poor in 2011. Nearly all of these families are headed by a female custodial parent. Many are young, never married, and a member of a minority. Most have two or more children eligible for child support. These families struggle to make ends meet.

When poor families receive child support, it represents a large percent of their income. In 2011, poor custodial families who received child support collected $4,503, on average, representing 52 percent of the average income of poor custodial parents. And these figures increased between 2009 and 2011. In 2009, poor custodial families who received child support got, on average $3,909, representing 45 percent of the average income of poor custodial parents.

As we move forward, the child support program will continue to play a key role in the War on Poverty, delivering child support to disadvantaged families in tough budgetary times. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the Child Support Report will feature more articles this year that further highlight the role that child support plays in lifting people out of poverty.


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One Response to History demonstrates child support lifts children out of poverty

  1. Paul Burt says:

    It doesn’t take very long, before a safety net, becomes a hammock!
    Of course everything “works” by sufficiently low standards, and everything “fails” by sufficiently high standards. The real question is: What did the “war on poverty” set out to do – and how well did it do it, if at all?
    Without some idea of what a program is trying to do, there is no way to know whether what actually happened represented a success or a failure. When the hard facts show that a policy has failed, nothing is easier for its defenders than to make up a new set of criteria, by which it can be said to have succeeded. What the war on poverty was intended to end, was mass dependency on government. President Kennedy said, “We must find ways of returning far more of our dependent people to independence.”
    That fact is that the “war on poverty” has been a catastrophic fiscal failure – 50 years and trillions of dollars later, it is painfully clear that in the Uniyed States, there is more dependency on government than ever before.
    Ironically, dependency on government to raise people above the poverty line had been going down for years before the “war on poverty” began. The hard facts showed that the number of people who lived below the official poverty line had been declining since 1960, and was only half of what it had been in 1950. The proportion of people whose earnings put them below the poverty level – without counting government benefits – declined by about one-third from 1950 to 1965.
    All this was happening before the “war on poverty” went into effect — and all these trends reversed after it went into effect. Nor was this pattern unique. Other beneficial social trends that were going on before the 1960s reversed after other bright ideas of that decade were put into effect.
    Massive “sex education” programs were put into schools, claiming that this was urgently needed to reduce a “crisis” of teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases. But teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases had both been going down for years. Further, the murder rate had been going down for decades, and in 1960 was only half of what it had been in 1934. That trend suddenly reversed after the liberal changes in criminal laws during the 1960s. By 1974, the murder rate was more than twice as high as it had been in 1961.
    While the fact-free liberals celebrate the “war on poverty” and other bright ideas of the 1960s, we are trying to cope with yet another “reform” that has made matters worse, ObamaCare.

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