Safety net programs emerging from the War on Poverty and later antipoverty efforts such as Head Start, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among others have reduced poverty, and strengthened longer-term outcomes for poor children, leading to better health and greater economic success into adulthood. Unfortunately, despite the strong positive effect of these public programs, the poverty rate is still too high, particularly among America’s next generation of children and young adults. Struggling with economic insecurity is now a typical experience for America’s next generation, with the overwhelming majority of low-income households with children consisting of at least one working adult. For many families, work is not enough to keep them out of poverty, especially due to decades of shrinking wages, lack of affordable child care, and too few opportunities to move up to a better job with higher wages. Even with modest assistance from public programs, millions of families still struggle with economic insecurity. We need to build on the success of the War on Poverty and target the new problems created by the low-wage labor market.

Key Take Away Points

  • Build on success: Reject block grants, superwaivers, and other attempts to undermine the safety net programs, while filling in service gaps.
  • Fix low-wage work: Raise the minimum wage, and pass national paid leave legislation covering personal time, sick time, family and medical leave, or vacation.
  • Target racial and ethnic disparities: Beyond helping all low-income families, it is crucial to target specific barriers arising from race, ethnicity, language, and immigration status.
  • Pay special attention to the first years of life: Ending childhood poverty requires helping both generations by enabling parents to support their families during these early years and at the same time directly supporting children’s development.

Author Biography

Olivia Golden is executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. An expert in child and family programs at the federal, state, and local levels, she has a track record of delivering results for low-income children and families in the nonprofit sector and at all levels of government. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1993 to 2001, Golden was a key player in expanding and improving Head Start and creating Early Head Start. At the Urban Institute from 2008 to 2013, Golden led major initiatives on poverty and the safety net, families' economic security, and children's well-being. Under her leadership from 2001 to 2004, the D.C. Children and Family Services Agency emerged from federal court receivership and markedly improved the lives of children in the District. She was also director of programs and policy at the Children's Defense Fund, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and budget director of Massachusetts's Executive Office of Human Services. Golden earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from Harvard University. Email: ogolden@clasp.org