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The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty

by Jeff Madrick

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-45-149418-4
Publisher: Knopf

An economics analyst proposes a simple solution to the complex problem of child poverty—give those children cash.

In the acknowledgements, Madrick (Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World, 2014, etc.), a contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Nation, thanks his publisher for supporting his work in general and “this book in particular, whose subject is dense and not very accessible.” His approach, heavy on statistics and critique of policy in programs known by acronyms, seems intended more to influence policymakers, government officials, and liberal activists rather than tug at the heartstrings of the public at large. Yet he builds a strong case that child poverty in America is “moral tragedy,” with as many as 25% of American children suffering from such deprivation. He systematically traces the cycle, beginning with prenatal care (or lack thereof) and continuing through food and housing insecurities, economically segregated schools with substandard resources, and poor employment prospects. If our economic policies are keeping such a large percentage of children in such a cycle of poverty, why does society permit it? Because we don’t agree on the severity of the problem or where the poverty line should be set. We don’t agree on whose fault it is, often blaming the poor for bad habits, little initiative, and a tendency to have children they can’t support. In other words, the “culture of poverty,” which Madrick attacks forcefully, particularly in regard to the black community. “Ideological battles over the origins of poverty,” writes the author, “are not an abstraction—they have consequences for the poor, for policy and for a way that Americans understand who is to blame for poverty.” We have Social Security to help keep older citizens out of poverty; we need something similar for the young. “I believe,” writes Madrick, “we should provide monthly, substantial, and unconditional cash allowances for all children through disbursements to their families.”

A useful book that reveals what might be considered a secret shame but that is hiding in plain sight.