The United States may be the world’s richest nation, but according to the U.S. Census, one in three children (a total of 14.5 million) lived in poverty in 2015.

To address this rather staggering statistic, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has convened a committee of experts to provide recommendations for federal investment that would reduce the number of children living in poverty in the United States by half within 10 years.

Irwin Garfinkel, Mitchell I. Ginsberg Professor of Contemporary Urban Problems and the School of Social Work’s Interim Dean, has been appointed to the NAS 13-member multidisciplinary committee.

Dr. Garfinkel is the cofounder of the Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC)—one of the 37 centers set up by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD). CPRC focuses primarily on promoting the health and well-being of vulnerable populations, and its signature area is children, youth and families. As part of his work for CPRC, he is the co-principal investigator of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, a research project run in collaboration with Princeton University. By following 3,700 children born to unwed parents in large U.S. cities from their birth in the last years of the 20th century well into adolescence, the project has built an unmatched trove of data. A social worker and an economist by training, Dr. Garfinkel has conducted research on child support that has influenced legislation in Wisconsin and other states in the U.S., the U.S. Congress, Great Britain, Australia, and Sweden. He has authored or co-authored over 200 scientific articles and 16 books and edited volumes on poverty, income transfers, program evaluation, single parent families and child support, and the welfare state, including, most recently, Wealth and Welfare States: Is America Laggard or Leader? His previous work for NAS includes serving on the Committee for the Workshop on Design of the National Children’s Study Main Study (finding reported here) and on the Panel on Data and Methods for Measuring the Effects of Changes in Social Welfare Programs (findings reported here).

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) is a private, nongovernmental institution with the mission of providing nonpartisan, evidence-based guidance to federal legislators and policy makers in addressing policy challenges. It often convenes study committees made up of experts from across disciplines, who are then tasked with surveying the landscape of relevant research, holding public meetings to gather information, and deliberating to reach consensus on what the evidence reveals and the best path forward.

“I’m honored to be a part of this ambitious effort to cut child poverty in half in our country within ten years,” said Dr. Garfinkel. “If we look at the world’s wealthiest nations, the United States ranks near the bottom for child poverty. Children are our country’s greatest resource but also among the most vulnerable members of our society. This committee is charged with identifying best practices for moving children out of poverty, so that policymakers can grapple with these challenges.”

The Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half met for the first time this week at NAS headquarters in Washington, DC, to discuss the five charges they have received (go to full descriptions):

  1. Briefly review and synthesize the available research on the macro- and micro-economic, health, and social costs of child poverty, with attention to linkages between child poverty and health, education, employment, crime, and child well-being.
  2. Briefly assess current international, federal, state, and local efforts to reduce child poverty.
  3. Identify policies and programs with the potential to help reduce child poverty and deep poverty (measured using the Supplemental Poverty Measure) by 50 percent within 10 years of the implementation of the policy approach.
  4. For the programs the committee identifies as having strong potential to reduce child poverty, the committee will provide analysis in a format that will allow federal policy makers to identify and assess potential combinations of policy investments that can best meet their policy objectives.
  5. Identify key, high-priority research gaps the filling of which would significantly advance the knowledge base for developing policies to reduce child poverty in the United States and assessing their impacts.

The Committee’s work is sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE); the Foundation for Child Development; and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.


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