A new study that casts vital family supports in a bad light relies on far-fetched assumptions about the way people behave in real life and ignores the proven benefits of services for children and parents.

In fact, the study’s breezy conclusion that food stamps, subsidized child care and other supports discourage work, marriage and other productive behaviors takes a giant leap of logic from the dense data packed into the 33-page report.

The study by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University assumes that low-income people are aware of and act in accordance with complex economic scenarios.  And it ignores the reality that the Earned Income Tax Credit, subsidies to help low-income working families afford child-care, housing, and nutrition support provide the temporary help that many working Americans need to become financially independent or recover from temporary setbacks like job losses.

The study not only assumes that all low-income people use all of these services – when, in reality, most don’t – but also that they act in their daily lives as economic theories predict they should. It likens human behaviors and decisions to computerized algorithms that carefully calculate the costs and benefits of every action.

Furthermore, the study ignores research that overwhelmingly shows supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit improve employment among parents and have long-term benefits for children, including better school performance and health.  The same is true for nutrition assistance, which makes sure families have enough food to support active, healthy lives, cuts down on sickness and hospitalization among children, and makes adults less likely to miss work because of family illness.

Among families with children that receive these benefits and include an adult who isn’t 60 or older or disabled, 87 percent are working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which allows low-wage workers to keep more of their earnings, was proven to be the single biggest factor in boosting employment among single mothers from 1993 to 1999. Additionally, services like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and subsidized child care have strict work requirements for participating parents.

This study ignores the shared vision of the American dream. No one voluntarily chooses to give up on that dream because they would rather fill out one assistance application after the other and barely make ends meet. Americans are a resourceful, determined people. We turn to assistance when we need it, but only as a stepping stone to making that American dream a reality.

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2 thoughts on “GSU Study Conclusion is Flawed”

  1. Dear Ms. Johnson,

    I am happy that you read and commented on our report. However, I disagree with your interpretation of our conclusions.

    In the conclusion, we state, “In designing an effective social safety net, there are many difficult issues that must be addressed. Perhaps foremost among these questions is whether a social safety net should merely alleviate the harshest consequences of poverty by providing income support and in-kind benefits or should the system promote behaviors that increase the ability of families to escape poverty and dependence on government programs.”

    Ask yourself, as I did, how you would respond if you were the head of a household of 4 (two adults and two children) facing a tax rate over 200 percent on every dollar of earnings between $20,000 and $30,000. That is one of the findings of our report.

    You apparently believe that heads of households are not aware of these tax rates and therefore do not respond to them as economic models predict. Fair enough. Suppose I accept your hypothesis. That means the harder that person works, the further they fall behind. That is the implication of a tax rate greater than 100 percent. That is simple arithmetic.

    We share your concern for people facing economic hardships. We acknowledge your concern that political opponents of any social safety at all may use the findings of our report to try to discredit providing public assistance to people facing economic hardships. Yes, our report casts the current system in a bad light. However, the choice is not between, what we believe, is a poorly designed system and nothing at all. The challenge before us, however, is how to improve upon the current system. We like people; we care about people; but, we don’t want to keep some of them poor. We want to help lift them up, not hold them down with tax rates over 100 percent. That is the point we are trying to make in our report. Surely, you agree with us.

    Respectfully yours, Mark Rider

  2. You reference a story by the Fiscal Research Center at GSU, but there was no link or title. I am interested in reading the study, so that I can draw my own conclusions. Could you share the link or the specific title of the 33-page study?

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