On Thursday night, Endicott College Professor and Assistant Dean of Social Sciences Joshua McCabe gave a presentation entitled “The Path Not Taken: Conservative Approaches to Tackling Child Poverty in U.S. and Canada.” Before starting the lecture, however, he informed attendees that he had just used a “sexy title” to draw people in. Ultimately, his presentation consisted of a plethora of graphs and statistics, resulting in a lecture that somewhat resembled an economics class.
The lecture started out by highlighting the attitudes that Americans generally hold when it comes to the poor. According to McCabe, Americans do not dislike welfare as much as many think; most people do feel a desire to help the poor. However, the U.S. and other nations, such as Canada, have ultimately chosen to combat their poverty issues differently based on how they have addressed persistent low income.
Canada introduced income supplementation; the U.S. did not. The additional money circulating in Canadian households led to inflation, which in turn had fallout effects on the tax and benefit systems. In order to prevent further erosion of the tax system, conservative politican Robert Stanfield urged the government to index the system. Feeling squeezed by inflation, Canada became the first country in the world to introduce indexation as a means of both maintaining prosperity among lower-income households and preventing high inflation.
In 1974, U.S. Representative James Buckley proposed a tax index modeled off of Canada’s indexes, but he was repeatedly dismissed by a Democratic congress. According to McCabe, growing economic problems for American families could be directly correlated to a failure to implement this very tax system.
By the 1990s, high child poverty was impossible to ignore, leading many to propose policies that would help children escape the welfare bracket. One central proposal for combatting the poverty crisis was a guaranteed income that would both remove children from welfare and remove any disincentives for them to work later in life. Since these children would not see their benefits taken away as they began making money, there would still be incentives for adults to work while maintaining a safety net for children.
These policies were advanced in the U.S. through a series of child tax credits and tax benefits that aimed to supplement income and reduce, in McCabe’s words, “the burden on the embattled American family.” Canadian conservatives also wanted to bolster this family ideal, and they achieved success to this end. McCabe suggested that these policies, implemented decades before the generation in question was even born, ultimately decided the success of lower-income families.
Toward the end of the lecture, McCabe brought up an image of former Canadian Prime Minister Ryan Malroney, a man whom he personally admires. Malroney’s goal, McCabe explained, was to eliminate the child’s portion of SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] by adding $3000 to the Child Tax Credit, which supplemented a family’s annual income. This supplementation was fully refundable.
McCabe concluded by highlight several discrepanies between the American and Canadian systems. Canada provided refundable income assistance to lower-income families, while the U.S. provided only a nonrefundable Child Tax Credit because it was seen by American politicians as chiefly a form of tax relief. This nonrefundable assistance probably contributed significantly to the perception that welfare is a form of handout, when in reality, McCabe argued, it should be seen as a way to help people get back on their feet and rise up out of a lower income bracket and into to a higher one.
McCabe ended the lecture on a personal note, telling everyone that he was late to the lecture because he had to drive his kids to a doctor’s appointment. Children, he said, are a luxury good that many can no longer afford. Thus, he disagreed strongly with the notion that people have children in order to get larger welfare checks. The cost, time and energy of raising a child, he claimed, far exceed the amounts that people get in welfare checks once a month.