The Fiscalization of Social Policy: How Taxpayers Trumped Children in the Fight Against Child Poverty (forthcoming, Oxford University Press)
In 1970, a single mother with two children working fulltime at the federal minimum wage in the U.S. received no direct cash benefits from the federal government to help her raise her children. Today, after a period of intense austerity, that same mother would receive $7,572 in federal cash benefits. This money does not come from social assistance or other programs we traditionally see as part of the welfare state. Instead, she benefits from the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC). These tax credits – nonexistent fifty years ago – have become major components of American social policy.
Looking beyond the United States, we find similar developments in the United Kingdom and Canada. What scholars have assumed is the United States’ exceptional reliance on tax credits is actually part of a broader trend. Beginning in the 1970s, and peaking in the 1990s, these three countries converged around the same set of tax credits with the goal of tackling child poverty – a process the author calls the fiscalization of social policy. Despite this convergence, U.S. child poverty rates remain well above those of the U.K. and Canada because the U.S. tax credits paradoxically exclude the poorest families.
The Fiscalization of Social Policy challenges the conventional wisdom on American exceptionalism, offering the first and only comparative analysis of the politics of tax credits. Rather than attributing these changes to anti-welfare attitudes, mobilization of conservative forces, shifts toward workfare, or racial antagonism, the book argues the growing use of tax credits for social policy was a strategic adaptation to austerity everywhere but that the historical absence of family allowances in the U.S. left the country with a policy legacy that institutionalized a distinct “logic of tax relief,” ensuring that the poorest American families would be ineligible for tax credits.