New CSB Working Paper: Race, Social Assistance & the Risk of Child Poverty across the 50 United States

25 Jan 2018

Black children in the United States are more than twice as likely as white children to live in poverty. While past research has primarily attributed this phenomenon to the family structure of black children, this paper investigates how state-level heterogeneity in social assistance programs contributes to the black-white child poverty gap. The evidence suggests that racial inequities in states’ allocations of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds contributed to the impoverishment of approximately 215,000 black children per year from 2012 to 2014. To arrive at this finding, I first analyze state spending data to classify four conceptually distinct TANF spending priorities. Building on theorizations of opportunity hoarding and minority threat, I then apply a ‘within-between’ random-effects model to state-year panel data and conclude that states with larger percentages of black residents are less likely to prioritize the ‘provision of cash assistance’ spending priority and more likely to prioritize the ‘discouragement of lone motherhood.’ Using household income data, I estimate that neutralizing the inequity in TANF spending priorities would reduce the black-white child poverty gap by approximately 13 percent. The findings call for greater attention in American poverty research of the role of state governments in generating racially-skewed poverty outcomes.

Working Paper Author: Zach Parolin
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