Social Mobility Memos

Campaign 2016: Ideas for reducing poverty and improving economic mobility

Edward Rodrigue and Isabel V. Sawhill

We can be sure that the 2016 presidential candidates, whoever they are, will be in favor of promoting opportunity and cutting poverty. The question is: how? In our contribution to a new volume published today, “Campaign 2016: Eight big issues the presidential candidates should address,” we show that people who clear three hurdles—graduating high school, working full-time, and delaying parenthood until they in a stable, two-parent family—are very much more likely to climb to middle class than fall into poverty:


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But what specific policies would help people achieve these three benchmarks of success?  Our paper contains a number of ideas that candidates might want to adopt. Here are a few examples: 

1. To improve high school graduation rates, expand “Small Schools of Choice,” a program in New York City, which replaced large, existing schools with more numerous, smaller schools that had a theme or focus (like STEM or the arts). The program increased graduation rates by about 10 percentage points and also led to higher college enrollment with no increase in costs.


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2. To support work, make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) refundable and cap it at $100,000 in household income. Because the credit is currently non-refundable, low-income families receive little or no benefit, while those with incomes above $100,000 receive generous tax deductions. This proposal would make the program more equitable and facilitate low-income parents’ labor force participation, at no additional cost.


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3. To strengthen families, make the most effective forms of birth control (IUDs and implants) more widely available at no cost to women, along with good counselling and a choice of all FDA-approved methods. Programs that have done this in selected cities and states have reduced unplanned pregnancies, saved money, and given women better ability to delay parenthood until they and their partners are ready to be parents. Delayed childbearing reduces poverty rates and leads to better prospects for the children in these families.

These are just a few examples of good ideas, based on the evidence, of what a candidate might want to propose and implement if elected. Additional ideas and analysis will be found in our longer paper on this topic.

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