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Public Policy and the Distribution of Income

Alan J. Auerbach, David Card, John M. Quigley

Publication Year: 2006

Over the last forty years, rising national income has helped reduce poverty rates, but this has been accompanied by an increase in economic inequality. While these trends are largely attributed to technological change and demographic shifts, such as changing birth rates, labor force patterns, and immigration, public policies have also exerted a profound affect on the welfare of Americans. In Public Policy and the Income Distribution, editors Alan Auerbach, David Card, and John Quigley assemble a distinguished roster of policy analysts to confront the key questions about the role of government policy in altering the level and distribution of economic well being. Public Policy and the Income Distribution tackles many of the most difficult and intriguing questions about how government intervention — or lack thereof — has affected the incomes of everyday Americans. Rebecca Blank analyzes welfare reform, and presents systematic research on income, poverty rates, and welfare and labor force participation of single mothers. She finds that single mothers worked more and were less dependent on public assistance following welfare reform, and that low-skilled single mothers had no greater difficulty finding work than others. Timothy Smeeding compares poverty reduction programs in the United States with policies in other developed countries. Poverty and inequality are higher in the United States than in other advanced economies, but Smeeding argues that this is largely a result of policy choices. Poverty rates based on market incomes alone are actually lower in the United States than elsewhere, but government interventions in the United States were less than half as effective at reducing poverty as were programs in the other countries. The most dramatic poverty reduction story of twentieth century America was seen among the elderly, who went from being the age group most likely to live in poverty in the 1960s to the group least likely to be poor at the end of the century. Gary Englehardt and Jonathan Gruber examine the role of policy in alleviating old-age poverty by estimating the impact of Social Security benefits on the income of the elderly poor. They find that the growth in Social Security almost completely explains the large decline in elderly poverty in the United States. The twentieth century was remarkable in the extent to which advances in public policy helped improve the economic well being of Americans. Synthesizing existing knowledge on the effectiveness of public policy and contributing valuable new research, Public Policy and the Income Distribution examines public policy's successes, and points out the areas in which progress remains to be made.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

In December 2003, a conference was organized in Berkeley. We commissioned the eight papers in this volume, seeking out the preeminent expert on each of the related topics treated in this book. Drafts of the papers included here were originally presented at that conference. ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-29

The postwar era in the United States has been a time of rising national income and unprecedented gains in the economic well-being of American households. This prolonged period of growth led to a reduction in poverty rates but was also associated with a rise in the inequality...

Part I: Government Transfer Programs

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2. What Did the 1990s Welfare Reforms Accomplish?

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pp. 33-79

In August 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Many pieces of legislation are heralded as “pathbreaking reform” when they are passed. PRWORA was an exception in...

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3. The Take-Up Social Benefits

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pp. 80-148

This chapter offers a review of recent literature regarding the take-up of social programs in the United States and the United Kingdom. A few general conclusions are drawn: First, take-up is enhanced by automatic or default enrollment and lowered by administrative barriers, although...

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4. Government Programs and Social Outcomes: Comparison of the United States with Other Rich Nations

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pp. 149-218

The United States has a long tradition of measuring income poverty and income inequality and weighing the effectiveness, successes, and failures of government policies aimed at poverty reduction. In our own way we have created a unique set of social policies that support widely...

Part II: Taxation and Social Insurance

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5. Income and Wealth Concentration in a Historical and International Perspective

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pp. 221-258

Recent studies have used tax statistics to construct top-income and wealth-shares series over the twentieth century for the United States and Canada and for a number of European countries: the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the first part of the century, all...

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6. Social Security and the Evolution of Elderly Poverty

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pp. 259-287

One of the most striking trends in elderly well-being in the twentieth century was the dramatic decline in poverty among the elderly. The official poverty rate of those sixty-five years and older was 35 percent in 1960, more than twice that of the non-elderly (those aged eighteen...

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7. The Measurement and Evolution of Health Inequality: Evidence from the U.S. Medicare Population

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pp. 288-316

The technological revolution in health care has brought both great benefits with respect to survival and general well-being, and substantial increases in costs.1 Whether these changes have reduced inequality in health care or in health outcomes is not well understood. ...

Part III: Government Policies and Outcomes

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8. The Socioeconomic Status of Black Males: The Increasing Importance of Incarceration

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pp. 319-358

Over the past three decades, the average socioeconomic status of African American males has deteriorated, absolutely and relative to men from other racial and ethnic groups. Despite gains in relative earnings immediately following passage of the Civil Rights Act, the relative earnings of...

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9. Public Health and Mortality: What Can We Learn from the Past?

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pp. 359-397

City life in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was dirty and dangerous (Melosi 2000). The water and milk supply of cities was contaminated with bacteria that caused typhoid fever, dysentery, and diarrhea. Cities did not remove sewage and their streets were filled with garbage...


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pp. 399-412

E-ISBN-13: 9781610440202
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540461
Print-ISBN-10: 0871540460

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 655191862
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Public Policy and the Distribution of Income

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Subject Headings

  • Economic assistance, Domestic -- United States.
  • United States -- Social policy.
  • Poverty -- United States.
  • Income distribution -- United States.
  • Economic security -- United States.
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