We will discuss the effects of changes in family

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We will discuss the effects of changes in family structure on children’s economic, social, and psychological well-being later in the chapter. Here, we need to look at another important factor in child poverty: the way social welfare policies in the United States affect children and the elderly. Social Welfare Policy and Divergent Poverty Rates of Children and the Elderly Although Americans advocate strict equality in the distribution of politi- cal and judicial rights, they are wary about supporting attempts to ensure economic equality that involve government redistribution (Burtless, 1994, p. 83). Unlike most Western European countries, the United States is a highly market-oriented society and designs its social welfare programs accordingly. This fact is nowhere more evident than in the disparity between the poverty rate of children and that of the elderly. As many Progressives like to point out, the Great Society programs (the expansion of Social Security and the institution of Medicare and Medicaid) in the 1960s substantially reduced poverty among the elderly. In calculating this change, using a posttax and transfer poverty rate—as previously men- tioned, a measure that takes tax and income transfer resources into account—is crucial. Using such a measure, the poverty rate for persons 65 years and older in 1960 was around 30%, whereas by 1994 it was reduced to 12%; in 2002 it was 10.5%, and it was 9.7% in 2008, 8.9 % in 2009, and 8.8% in 2015 (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003; Proctor, Semega, & Kollar, 2016; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009, 2012). The major reason for this reduction was government programs that supported the elderly. Similar government Copyright ©2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc. This work may not be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without express written permission of the publisher. Draft Proof - Do not copy, post, or distribute
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318 PART FOUR: Children, Social Problems, and the Future of Childhood programs for children are much less generous. To estimate the difference, let’s look at how government programs affected rates of poverty among the elderly and children in the United States in 1996. For the elderly (persons 65 and older), the poverty rate before taking government programs and tax credits into account was around 50%. After taking the programs and tax credits into account, the poverty rate was 12%, a reduction of 38%. Things were quite different for children 17 and under in 1996. The poverty rate was reduced from 23.6% to 16.1% when taking government programs and tax credits into account, a reduction of only 7.5% (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1998). These differences in the poverty rates of the elderly and children have persisted since 1996, as we previously noted. In fact, social welfare policies and a number of other factors have contributed to a general trend in which the quality of the lives of the elderly and children have moved in different directions—up for the elderly and down for children (Preston, 1984; Sgritta, 1994, 1997). Do we care more for our elderly than for our children? Does it make sense to invest more in the elderly than in children?
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