So Much Wrong With Single Mother Stereotype

May 22, 2017

Posts on single motherhood consistently rank among my weekly top-10 viewed. I’ve published nothing on the issues for quite awhile.

So I’ll take a brief break — and give you one too — from the stream of reports, op-eds, forecasts and the like sparked by turbulence in the White House and fractiousness in the Congress.

Here’s some of what we learn from the aptly-titled Single Mother Guide, fleshed out from other sources and what’s stashed in my own brain.

What Single Mother Commonly Means and What It Should

First off, a bit of clarification. Single mothers, in all the standard data sources, are only unmarried women raising minor-age children. Widows who’ve sole responsibility for grandchildren don’t count. Likewise women not currently married who’ve let adult children move back in with them.

Social conservatives often speak disapprovingly of single mothers as women who gave birth out of wedlock and didn’t then enter into holy matrimony with a male breadwinner.

But somewhat more single mothers are either widowed, separated from their spouses or divorced — roughly 51%, according to the latest Census data. .

This isn’t new, but the percent is shifting toward the never-married. It doesn’t mean that all the never-married mothers had babies, however. Single women may choose to adopt a child, as several of my long-time friends have.

It also doesn’t mean that the never-married mothers have no adult in the house with whom they’re in a quasi-spousal relationship.

Perhaps fewer now that same-sex marriages are legal nationwide. But opposite-sex domestic partnerships so far outstripped them when the Supreme Court ruled the former a Constitutional right that they’re probably stillmore common.

On the other hand, an as-yet unknown number of same-sex marriage partners are officially single mothers because some state laws and/or administrative procedures prohibit or otherwise deter their spouses from adopting.

Recent Single Mother Trends

What’s definitely shifting is the age when single mothers first give birth. The teenage birthrate has hit another record low. Researchers have tried to tease out reasons. The one that seems most certain is more use of contraceptives, especially the maximally-effective long-acting, reversible kinds.

Economist Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution is championing LARCs, having earlier coauthored an oft-cited study that found a very low likelihood of poverty among people who married before becoming parents.

Some of you may recall how some conservatives seized on this as a simple, personally responsible way to avoid poverty.

But Sawhill’s concluded that it’s not a realistic basis for an anti-poverty strategy, given the upward trend in unmarried motherhood. She would instead have us promote “responsible parenthood,” i.e., choosing when to have a baby — and to make the choice easy and cheap.

What Accounts for Single Mother Poverty

We’ve got a debate on solutions to out-of-wedlock births, rooted in ideological differences. What’s beyond debate is the strong link between single motherhood and poverty.

Single-mother families consistently have the highest poverty rate of any household type — currently 28.2%, as compared to 5.4% for married couples. Whether the out-of-wedlock births or the poverty came first is an open question.

Most of our best research suggests both. We see, for example, that out-of-wedlock births are far less common among college graduates than women with at most a high school diploma.

So the former can earn far more by working — and live even better because college graduates tend to marry others even more than they used to.

Pregnancy surely compels some young women to drop out of high school, having no one to care for their child.

They’re then unable to work — at least for enough pay to keep the family out of poverty — because they’re still without the child care and lack the minimal credential so many employers require.

On the other hand, Kathryn Edin, best known as the coauthor of $2 a Day, earlier coauthored a study of poor single mothers. It too was based in part on her actually living in poor neighborhoods and gaining the trust of the people whose experiences and views she sought to understand.

Single mothers she interviewed there wanted children — “somebody to take care of,” as one said. But when they looked at their prospects for a trustworthy, breadwinning husband, they concluded the risks outweighed the potential rewards.

An Altogether Different Explanation

The cause-effect interaction the various studies indicate has commonsense appeal, as well as substantive credibility. But a recently-published study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board raises doubts.

It looks at wealth, rather than income. But, of course, the one begets the other and vice versa. The researchers tested various potential causes of wealth differences, including family structure.

When they looked at that factor within specific race/ethnicity groups, rather than across the whole sample, they found little or no correlation. “[T]he bottom line,” a summary concludes,” is that links between family structure and wealth are weak, inconsistent and mostly spurious.”

We need to look instead at factors related directly to race. We know more than enough to know how the legacy of slavery, out-and-out discrimination and less overt forms built into our income-related systems account for a large portion of the black/white wealth gap.

And we do, in fact, see that the percent of children being raised in single-parent families, mostly by mothers is higher for blacks than any other race/ethnicity group the Census Bureau breaks out.

Might they perhaps find a unique shortage of men who’d be suitable marriage material.

Might they also find positive role models in the single black mothers who’ve successfully raised children without the spousal role model some still insist that kids, boys especially need to stay out of trouble, on the path to a paying job, etc.

As I write this, I think of Mom, who raised two fine boys, including my late husband — and of what moms like her will likely face unless Congress basically scraps the proposed budget they’ll get from Trump on strikethrough Tuesday.


A Litmus Test for Safety Net Policies

May 18, 2017

We all, I’m sure, know how people on “welfare,” i.e. receiving virtually any safety net benefit, are often bad-mouthed.

We know too that the process of gaining benefits and keeping them often subjects recipients to requirements and hassles that we’d never imposed on better-off people.

The humiliations and inconveniences deter some eligible people from applying — a feature, not a bug in some state and local systems.

But exclusion from the mainstream has other consequences, say the coauthors of another of the recently-published poverty reduction papers I mentioned the other day.
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We obviously need reforms to reflect current facts—notably, the make-up of the poverty population. But Professors Kathryn Edin, Luke Schaefer and Laura Tach argue that we need something more to make our investments as effective as possible.

They propose a “litmus test” for anti-poverty policies. These, they say, should foster a sense of inclusion. That will not only accord beneficiaries the dignity they deserve, but help motivate them to act in ways that benefit them, their communities and our society as a whole.

They use the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit as a prime example. Not perfect, as they say, because it benefits only lower-income adults with paying jobs—and, as they don’t say, does very little for those who don’t have children living with them.

But their study of how EITC recipients spent their refunds found that they spend them “remarkably responsibly,” e.g,. to pay off debt, buy things that will last and, in their view at least, contribute to upward mobility.

Edin et al. cite two reasons for behaviors generally viewed as responsible. First, the refunds hinge on paying work — a core American value. So when prospective beneficiaries seek to claim it,, they’re treated respectfully, just as better-off filers are.

The second reason is that they can choose how they’ll spend their annual cash infusion, rather than having the choice made for them, as for example, SNAP (the food stamp program) does.

This, the coauthors say, is empowering. That in itself, one infers, contributes to responsible behaviors.

Perhaps, they say, their litmus test should extend to programs that depend on donations. Some I’m familiar with not only treat their clients with respectfully, but offer programs to empower them.

Perhaps you also know some too — and some that would flunk the litmus test. I and your fellow viewers, I think, would welcome personal stories, other examples, etc. posted here as comments.


New Answers to Who Is Poor in America

May 15, 2017

Recent mail included not only the usual junk, requests for donations and bills, but a magazine from Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality. Such a surprise, since I hadn’t ordered it. And such an informative and thought-provoking issue.

It’s a series of what it terms “blueprints” for ending poverty, prefaced by two framing papers. One presents key facts that reforms should reflect, the other a litmus tests for them.

They seem to me more groundbreaking than the blueprints, fine as those are. So I’ll focus on the first—and more meaty — here. Will follow up with the second soon.

More Jobless, Childless Adults

The authors present two facts that indicate a changing structure in U.S. poverty.

They’re often ignored because they’re at the margins of our safety net programs and so would be harder to accommodate than, say, much-needed reforms in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. (Unintentionally confirming this, none of the blueprints addressed them.)

The first is the ongoing increase in jobless poverty — more specifically, the unemployment rate for working-age adults. Many are probably “disconnected,” i.e., not looking for work and so not counted in the reported rate.

It rises during recessions, of course. But in good times, as well as bad, working-age adults who don’t have children living with them — often referred to as childless — have dropped out of the labor market.

More in Dire Poverty

So the poverty population as a whole is becoming “a more deprived and destitute class”—not just poor, but deeply so, i.e., living on incomes less than half the poverty threshold or even the extreme $2.00 a day poverty. This is the second key fact.

But our safety net programs don’t reflect it, for several reasons. One is that they’re work-based. TANF, for example, aims to increase the training that will gain participants jobs. The Earned Income Tax Credit is only for people who’ve earned money by working.

The programs are also family-based. TANF, of course, is only for parents who’ve got children living with them. The EITC favors married couples with children and sets a very low maximum benefit for the childless.

Opportunities Out of Reach

The third key fact differs from the others because it’s not directly a change in the structure of our poverty population. The authors refer to it as the “commodification of opportunity”—a fancy term for several developments that help account for poverty.

They include low and unpredictable wages for both workers in regular jobs who’ve got, at most, a high school education and the growing number in the gig economy, e.g., Uber drivers, temp agency employees.

Two other developments have to do with the composition of the poverty population. One is the growing share who are Hispanic. Another, closely related is the share who are immigrants.

They’re at high risk not only because many are undocumented and so justifiably fear complaining of wage theft. Most who are legally here don’t become eligible for major safety net benefits for their first five years.

And however long they’ve been here, a goodly number have limited job opportunities because they speak little or no English.

Still another and again related development is increasing neighborhood segregation. The authors focus here on research on children who grow up in poor neighborhoods, i.e., the potential next generation in the working-age adult poverty population.

But, in fact, living in a poor neighborhood disadvantages the current generation too —  because of few nearby decent-paying jobs, for example, public transportation to get to them, fewer working neighbors to serve as networks and such high levels of stress as to interfere with job training and searches.

Now comes genuine commodification, i.e., the need to buy what’s needed for a decent-paying job. When TANF began, a diploma from a public high school sufficed for a job that paid more than a poverty-level wage.

As we all know, you now need postsecondary education and/or training for in-demand skills. Both are often costly. So it’s sort of them that has gets and those that don’t doesn’t.

Add to these the difficulties low-income parents have in giving their children opportunities that will pay off in the long run. These include high-quality early education delivered in daycare centers.

And following that, ready access to good public schools, since that generally requires living in a well-off neighborhood, where rents are high or nonexistent because it’s a homeowner community.

The authors intersperse these facts with brief remarks on what policies could do and what some already are. But what’s clear enough is that our anti-poverty plans need some significant adjustments.


House Majority Denies Low-Income Seniors and People With Disabilies Choice of Living in Their Homes

May 12, 2017

Some followers may have noticed a long silence. I’ve just rejoined the networked world after another fall — this one, unlike the first, a complication of a complication of a condition only recently diagnosed.

As you might imagine, I’ve been dwelling on health care even more than I would have otherwise. So I was ready to launch a diatribe against major, widely-reported harms inflicted by the House repeal-replacement bill.

I’ll instead focus on another that a columnist for TalkPoverty.org ferreted out. It’s directly relevant to people in my condition, i.e., elderly and/or disabled, at least temporarily, but only those with incomes low enough for eligibility in their state’s Medicaid program.

The Affordable Care Act did more than aim to expand Medicaid eligibility nationwide. It also offered state incentives to expand Medicaid in-home services to the overlapping groups I cited above.

Among the most successful, says the TalkPoverty columnist is the Community First Choice program. It increases states’ usual federal match on their spending by 6% for services that will maximize recipients’ ability to continue living safely and as self-sufficiently as possible in their own homes.

They can receive not only help with so-called activities of daily living, e.g., bathing, eating, and health-related tasks like taking medications on schedule, but also training so they can master these tasks. They can also get equipment to assist them and training on how to use it.

Agencies may further support living at home by providing hands-on help with tasks like meal preparation, light housework and transportation.

Here’s a true win-win. We all, I suppose want to stay in our homes, assuming they’re safe and in relatively good repair.

We surely prefer living in our community to an institution where there’s no one we know and good care is far from assured. Perhaps also not one we know who cares enough and lives close enough to visit regularly.

Government agencies surely prefer this too. An in-depth AARP study found that Medicaid paid roughly three times as much for institutional care as for home-based services. The data are far from current, but there’s no reason to think the basic cost saving has significantly changed.

Another study — this one of a pilot project — found that Medicaid costs dropped by about $11,900 a year for every older adult transitioned from a nursing home back into his/her community.

The House bill would eliminate the CFC program in 2020, cutting an estimated $12 billion in federal Medicaid funding in the first six years.

It’s a minuscule fraction of the nearly the nearly $840 billion the bill would cut from Medicaid. But it would somewhat more than pay for the late-added funds states could use for high-risk insurance pools, if they opted to let insurance companies deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

You may have already read about this provision because it’s how the Republican leadership quelled colleagues’ well-grounded anxieties about eliminating the ACA’s guarantee against such discrimination.

People who’ve suffered injuries like mine would be vulnerable, of course. But we’re told that insurance companies have classified a wide range of conditions as pre-existing, including acne, transexuality, pregnancy and recovery from domestic violence or rape with help from therapy.

For this and other reasons, the high-risk pools probably won’t offer insurance that’s either sufficiently broad or affordable. We need only look to pools states established.

They surely won’t without a lot more money than the Medicaid shift, even if states also tap other, more broadly defined funding streams. Two conservative economists estimated the annual cost at $15-$20 billion — this back in 2010. The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates at least $31 billion.

I’m inclined to think that some House Republicans who voted for the bill knew this, though, as we know for sure, House Speaker Ryan chose to rush it through, rather than wait for an official score from the Congressional Budget Office.

We can also, I think, be pretty sure that House Republicans know they passed a bad bill, from both the promised repeal and replace-with-something=better perspectives. They believe passing nothing would be worse, what with their valuing their re-election prospects more than their constituents’ well-being.

Happily, the Senate will start from scratch and clearly intends to take as much time as the drafters (all Republicans) feel they need.

So the story’s far from over. But broad-based research and advocacy organizations—and the rest of us interested parties—need be less focused on this one hot issue, when there are already many others.


Rehashed Attacks on SSDI, New Rebuttals, Proposed Reforms

May 1, 2017

The Washington Post recently published a long article on Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in small rural communities. It set off a well-deserved backlash. But it made me wonder whether anyone had ideas for improving the program. Hence this post.

Aspersions on SSDI and Beneficiaries

The Post article focused on a former roofer who was suffering chronic pain because he’d fallen to the ground. He couldn’t find a different sort of job. So he was weighing whether to apply for SSDI.

The thrust of the article was that SSDI, is sort of ongoing unemployment insurance benefit — and how both the number of beneficiaries and costs have soared. “Filled with tropes, gimmicks and dogwhistles frequently promoted by right-wing opponents of SSDI,” said Media Matters.

I was going to take a pass — partly because I dealt with these allegations when an NPR reporter patched together factoids and personal opinions to argue that SSDI has become “a de facto welfare program” and partly because expert advocates swiftly pounced, as they had before.

The Post followed up with an editorial calling for reforms, while suggesting, as did the NPR reporter, that many SSDI recipients aren’t all that disabled. Further fodder for Congressional Republicans eager to “reform” so-called entitlements.

And not only they. Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director made the same point. SSDI has “effectively become a long-term, permanent unemployment program.” He looks forward to talking with his boss about “ways to fix it.”

Then we got a rebuttal of the Post’s rural county analysis from two policy experts at the Center for American Progress. The Post published a correction, based on a different data set. Still wrong said the rebuttal team — essentially cherry-picking, since it finds only one out of more than 5,100 that backs up its still-broad claims.

Surely SSDI deserves a strong defense, Bad enough you can’t earn money for at least a year at any job whatever because your disability is so severe or because you’ll probably be dead.

Bad too in many cases because disabilities can be painful, hard to adjust to and costly, even with Medicare — a benefit paired with SSDI, if you live long enough.

And bad because you’re tarred with accusations of fraud The program isn’t fraud-free, but two former Social Security Administration officials put the rate at less than 1%.

Proposed Improvements

So should we insist that policymakers leave the program untouched? Experts — and not only those leaning left — say emphatically not.

The Cato Institute, for example, tackles a problem that other more moderate experts have also addressed. Under current law, SSDI recipients may try to reenter the workforce for a year, if they earn no more than $1,170 a month or a bit more than that if they’re blind.

A dollar more and they’re over a cliff because that supposedly shows they’re capable of substantial gainful activity — a hard-and-fast disqualifier for SSDI.

Needless to say, I hope, this hardly encourages recipients who can’t earn a whole lot more from trying to earn what they can, even if they might earn more over time.

So Cato proposes a benefits offset for wages earned, but also a subsidy from another funding source that would that would increase up to a higher level than the SGA. And those who opt for this dual support wouldn’t lose their SSDI eligibility.

This isn’t the only problem, however. The overly-complex, often prolonged process of gaining approval for SSDI benefits necessarily means that applicants mustn’t work for quite a long time. If they’re rejected, as many are they have a hard time finding a job they can perform.

One proposal that two former chairs of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security chose for a book would have a new screening system that would identify applicants who could continue to work if they received swift supports, e.g., vocational rehabilitation, assistive technologies like a computer speaks what’s on the monitor.

Employers would, of course, have to retain them — or if they were too disabled for a work support solution hire those who weren’t. Another of the published papers would give them an incentive for the former by requiring them to cover the first two years of disability claims — some skin in the game, so to speak..

The screening system proposal would instead effectively insulate them from liabilities for noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act if they kept their disabled workers who’d received supports on the payroll. (Feel a little queasy about this.)

Still another proposal looks instead to transitional, i.e., short-term, subsidized jobs in the private sector– rather like the highly successful use many states made of the Recovery Act’s TANF Emergency Contingency Fund.

This, however, would be for potentially work-capable beneficiaries, new applicants and those whose applications SSA rejected.

Federal funds would subsidize their pay up to $10 an hour. That would boost their income by roughly $428 more than the average benefit.

But most beneficiaries surveyed had jobs requiring few specialized skills, and only a third had any education beyond high school. So one could assume their benefits were below the average.

Employers would get not only workers they wouldn’t have pay. The program would cover their responsibilities for payroll taxes, unemployment insurance taxes and premiums for workers compensation insurance. In short, good hiring incentives here.

Employers could, at any time, hire their transitional workers, but they couldn’t keep them on as transitional for more than six months.

During that time, transitional workers would have a job counselor, presumably to resolve problems. When the time limit came, the counselor would help those who’d done well to find a regular job. If none panned out within a month, the seeker could become transitional again.

In this respect, it’s somewhat like the trial period the current SSDI program allows in that in eliminates a disincentive to trying to reenter the workforce, but it’s obviously much more supportive than merely allowing a beneficiary to find a job that pays more than the SGA.

The last piece of this proposal tackles problems with the Earned Income Tax Credit that disadvantage all workers who don’t have children living with them and those with children whose spouse also works.

These have been issues on progressive policy agendas for a long time — and the former for the hardly progressive House Speaker Ryan.

Prognosis

The return-to-work proposals could and should raise concerns among progressives, especially that triaging. But one can imagine building in safeguards against denying SSDI to applicants unable to work.

The proposals would appeal to conservative policymakers, I think. They like safety net programs that involve work and/or preparation for work — in other words, programs that aim to get beneficiaries out of them.

Conversely, they don’t like programs that provide ongoing cash assistance without some sort of work component when beneficiaries aren’t demonstrably incapable of doing anything for pay.

Doubtful that we’ll see any of these proposals taken up by this Congress. But the SSDI Trust Fund will probably run out of money toward the end of 2023.

Rather than again redirecting payroll taxes money from the retirement trust account, thus accelerating its shortfall, we might see one or more of them or some combination on the legislative agenda. And one devoutly hopes someone else in the White House.


Not Just Kansas Anymore

April 26, 2017

Back in 2010, Kansas Governor Brownback and his Republican-controlled legislature initiated a “real-live experiment” in a particular brand of conservative economics. It blew up. And we, who don’t live in Kansas, may get hit by a much bigger explosion.

Experiment Blows Gaping Budget Holes

The Kansas Republicans eliminated income taxes for variously-structured small businesses. They also reduced income taxes for individual filers. This, Brownback said, would attract businesses, grow those there and create many thousands of jobs.

Well, Kansas, which must balance its budget every year, saw income taxes fall about $54 million short of projections — and then $333 million. Brownback filled the holes by shifting money from funds meant for special purposes..

Not enough. So Brownback cut funds for a range of programs, e.g., higher education, Medicaid, in-home services for seniors. And he tried to cut funding for K-12 education by $28 million — an action the Kansas Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

Why should we who don’t live in Kansas or have ties to anyone who does care? Because the Trump administration and leading Congressional Republicans have the same theory in mind for their tax cuts. And they’ll predictably trigger cuts in cuts in programs that benefit low-income people.

Faith in Theory Remains

A theory dating back to the mid-1970s, holds that tax cuts will stimulate so much economic growth that the additional revenues gained under the lower rates will offset the seeming losses, even reap more — because business will invest more, people work more, save and invest more.

It’s now commonly known as supply side economics — or pejoratively trickle down. Note how it favors tax cuts for corporations and well-off individuals, since lower-wage workers already have to earn as much as they can and have little or nothing left over to buy stocks and bonds.

Both the theory and some specific features of Brownback’s experiment underpin what the Trump administration and Congressional Republican leaders have in mind for their promised tax reform.

House Speaker Ryan’s Better Way tax reform plan includes large tax cuts on individuals’ investment income, lower tax rates for all businesses and an immediate, instead of a multi-year write-off on their investments.

The promise here is economic growth — in the labor force, productivity and wages. Though the cuts will be larger than “loopholes” and deductions eliminated, the package will, the plan says, be revenue-neutral, i.e. neither more nor less tax revenues collected.

Ryan cites a fairly recent House rule that requires the Joint Committee on Taxation to use dynamic scoring, rather than beginning with the current revenue baseline and then adding and subtracting estimated gains from increases and losses from cuts.

Last year’s concurrent budget resolution, i.e., the basic blueprint for budgets the House and Senate will develop, directed the Congressional Budget Office to do the same, insofar as it responsibly can.

No one with any basic economic smarts doubts that taxes have some effect on choices that affect growth. JCT and CBO factored these in their pre-dynamic scoring.

But the economists must build and use even more complex predictive models for dynamic scores. These — and so the results — can vary widely. But JCT and CBO  must deliver only one score, rather than a range, with explanations as they used to.

And now Trump’s Director of Office of Management and Budget says that both the budget and the administration’s tax reform proposal will reflect some dynamic scoring, but with a considerably higher growth rate than CBO’s.

The plan, he more recently said, ‘”will pay for itself” with growth — nearly $2 trillion over the first 10 years. The Tax Policy Center, on the other hand, estimates a $6.2 trillion loss in revenues, plus another trillion for interest on the mounting debt.

Devil Isn’t Only in Model Details

White House economists are still hammering out details of the tax reform plan, reportedly consulting with Congressional leaders — Republicans only, one infers.

Two things we know for sure. The business tax part will be “phenomenal” and the speaker, whom I trust need not be identified, believes the whole package “bigger than any tax cut ever.”

But what if, as in Kansas, it results in revenue losses? Edward Kleinbard, a former JCT chief of staff, thinks this likely — in part because the models assume that only individuals (and one assumes businesses) make productive investments. But government spending boosts growth too.

Less of that and the deficit will rise. The dynamic scoring partisans will push for deep cuts in investment programs and/or social insurance, he warns.

We know from experience that a rising deficit will prompt a wide range of cuts — both safety net and investments that give low-income people opportunities to earn more, e.g., by gaining more education and marketable skills, better public transportation, renovated neighborhoods that attract businesses.

These all give their children a better chance to do better too.

When Republicans balked at raising the debt ceiling in 2011, the Obama administration brokered a deal. Congress then passed the Budget Control Act — a two-part spending reduction measure.

We first had across-the-board cuts for both defense and non-defense programs that depend on annual appropriations, then caps on each, which Congress and the President later agreed to temporarily modify.

And look what’s happened.

As I’ve said before, programs generally need more funding just to sustain a steady state because costs rise — rent that housing vouchers subsidize, food and beverages that nutrition aid programs pay for* teaching materials, salaries and operating costs in public education programs, from pre-K through college, etc.

But funding for non-defense programs is now 16% lower in real dollars than in 2010. Title I funding targeted to high-poverty schools has remained basically flat, notwithstanding its current Every Child Succeeds Act name.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant — the largest source of federal subsidies for lower-income families serves fewer children in an average month than in any year since 1998, according to the latest official figures.

The Community Development Block Grant, which Trump wants to eliminate, lost $6 million last year alone. Local housing authorities are shy well over $26.5 billion needed to repair and/or renovate deteriorating public housing units merely to avoid further losses, estimated at 10,000 a year.

These are only examples I can readily recall in enough detail and find links for. We will surely have a plethora with those phenomenal tax cuts.

* Most nutrition assistance programs administered by the Agriculture Department must receive enough funding for everyone eligible. This is not true, however, for WIC or two programs that supply food directly, rather than as a cash-equivalent or a reimbursement.


What Do Our Federal Income Taxes Pay For?

April 24, 2017

We who didn’t request an extension (gloat) have filed our federal income tax returns. There’s a lot of chatter about where our taxpayer dollars go — even a Congressman who tells his constituents that they don’t pay his salary.

We do, of course. But more generally, what do we pay for? The National Priorities Project answers again this year. So I put what I owed into its online tool and converted the dollars into shares, since these would be the same for everyone.

Here’s what I learned.

The same shares would be true for everyone who owed income taxes. Only the actual dollars would differ.

The single largest share of my income taxes went for healthcare programs29%. About 80% of this helped pay for Medicaid and Medicare (one of its three funding streams).

Next largest share to the military — roughly 24%. Only about 20% of this went for personnel costs of any sort.

NPP also itemizes, for the interested, what the Pentagon pays for nuclear weapons and to Lockheed Martin, whose trouble-plagued F-35 fighter plane has cost us nearly $4 billion. An email from NPP tells me that we pay over six times more to Lockheed than what we spend on all foreign aid.

Third share went for interest on the debt — 13%. You may recall that Congressional Republicans used the government’s urgent need to borrow more so it could pay what it owed as a lever to force down spending through sequestration and the budget caps. And that they later actually shut down the government in hopes of defunding Obamacare.

Doubtful they’ll access their tax receipts. But the bill that simply suspended the debt ceiling expired a little over a month ago. And some are warning of another skirmish.

My fourth largest share paid for unemployment and labor programs — 7.5%, presumably everything federal agencies spend to get people into — or back into—the workforce.

This same share supports what the Labor Department contributes to unemployment insurance benefits when times are especially hard and the rules it issues and enforces to protect workers from workplace health hazards and wage theft. The latter now include updated overtime pay requirements, but may no longer, coming sometime next year.

Then veterans benefits — about 6%. This includes, among other things, payments veterans receive when they’re disabled while serving, the GI bill, home loans and pensions for low-income surviving spouses. Most of the rest of this share goes to the problem-riddled Veterans Health Administration.

Next come food and agriculture — nearly 5%. Here’s where we find, among other things, SNAP (the food stamp program) and the Agriculture Department’s other nutrition aid programs.

Also, in an altogether different mode, the subsidies Congress gives to farmers — mostly big agribusinesses — to cushion them against price drops, insure them against other business risks and more.

Government next — 4.2%. NPP breaks out only three pieces, all enforcement — and two clearly aimed at ramped-up actions against undocumented immigrants and would-be’s.

But we’ve got to assume, I think, that this line item includes spending for all non-military personnel and activities, including Congress members’ salaries — $174,000 this year, plus benefits.

Transportation gets a 3.2% share. Everything the Transportation Department does gets some share of this share. including controlling air traffic and, as all flyers know, vigilantly trying to keep us from hijacking or blowing up planes.

Education gets a 2.8% share, according to NPP’s analysis. I’d put it at 3.2% because NPP classifies Head Start and related programs as community spending.

It’s true that Head Start and Early Head Start for younger kids do more than ready them for kindergarten, e.g. screen them for health and developmental problems, link families to needed services. But their primary aim is starting low-income children off on as level a playing field as possible.

Wherever you put it, Head Start’s share is far from the largest NPP breaks out. That distinction goes to Pell grants, work-study and other forms of federal aid for lower-income college students. These rolled together receive a larger share than federal aid to elementary and secondary schools — 35 %, as compared to 27%.

And I’d be remiss not to note that the National Endowment for the Arts, which Trump wants to eliminate, gets less than .002% of education’s share, as NPP calculates it — and roughly a tenth of that for everything our federal government uses our income tax dollars for.

Shifting Head Start and EHS, as I have, leaves housing and community with a 1.7%, rather than a 2.1% share.

Here we have everything the Department of Housing and Urban Development spends to help make housing affordable for lower-income people, shelter and temporarily house those who are homeless and make lower-income neighborhoods better places to live, e.g., by attracting businesses and thus job opportunities, providing needed services.

The money goes to local communities as grants. The largest of these is the Community Development Block Grant — another program on the Trump hit list because it’s “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and “has not demonstrated results.”

Followers already know what I — and many others — think of that line of argument.

Energy and environment get a 1.6% share of our income taxes. Seems it’s likely to shrink to an even smaller fraction, what with Trump’s seeking a 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, crippling its ability to fulfill its legal responsibilities for protecting us from range of environmental health hazards, including climate change.

Lastly, we have, in rank order international affairs and science. These together get about 2.8% of the total.

Say you don’t like the way the budget apportions your federal income tax dollars. NPP has a tool that lets you reallocate them — and gives you trade-offs.

These are mostly shifts from the $528.5 billion Defense Department budget, which NPP has long viewed as excessive. Interesting to see what even small nicks could do for lower-income people.