Rethinking the Black-White Child Poverty Gap: Race, Social Assistance, and the Risk of Poverty Among the 50 United States

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 14:30
Oral Presentation
Zachary PAROLIN, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Poverty rates among black children in the United States nearly double that of white children. While past research has primarily pointed to family structure or employment patterns to explain this phenomenon, this paper instead investigates the extent to which state-level heterogeneity in the administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program contributes to black-white child poverty gap. The primary finding is that the estimated racial bias in states’ TANF spending priorities contributed to the impoverishment of an estimated 525,000 children per year from 2011 to 2013, the disproportionate share of whom were black. To arrive at this finding, I first review state legislation and TANF spending data to identify four conceptually distinct TANF spending priorities, each with its own set of policy instruments, desired social outcomes, and implications for low-income families. Building on prior findings that highlight the link between federalism and racial inequity, I then apply an integrated fixed- and random-effects model to state-year panel data and conclude that the racial composition of a state is the primary determinant of a state’s TANF spending priorities: states with larger percentages of black citizens, ceteris paribus, are less likely to prioritize the ‘provision of cash assistance’ and more likely to allocate funds toward the ‘discouragement of lone motherhood.’ In a counterfactual simulation that reverses the estimated inequity in the allocation of cash assistance, I find that even a modest move toward racial neutrality in states' governance of TANF would reduce the black-white child poverty gap by approximately 10 percent. Recognizing the role of decentralized social policy as a source of racial inequality, and state governments as critical actors in shaping the opportunities facing households within their respective jurisdictions, deserves increasing focus as American poverty research moves forward.