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Working Paper Series

Safety Net Investments in Children


  • Hilary Hoynes, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Diane Schanzenbach, Northwestern


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper ()


In this paper, we examine what groups of children are served by core childhood social safety net programs—including Medicaid, EITC, CTC, SNAP, and AFDC/TANF—and how they have changed over time. We find that virtually all gains in spending on the social safety net for children since 1990 have gone to families with earnings, and to families with income above the poverty line. These trends are the result of welfare reform and the expansion of in-work tax credits. We review the available research and find that access to safety net programs during childhood improves outcomes for children and society over the long run. This evidence suggests that the recent changes to the social safety net may have lasting negative impacts on the poorest children.

Additional Information

Press: Wall Street Journal, Brookings, Washington Post, The Economist, New York Times, Bloomberg Opinion

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Final Draft (forthcoming Brookings Paper on Economic Activity) (1,024KB)

NBER Working paper 24594

Last updated on 12/19/2018