Professor Emeritus

Irwin Garfinkel

Dr. Irwin Garfinkel is a world-leading researcher on poverty and the welfare state and a go-to resource for policymakers interested in anti-poverty programs at all levels of government.

Dr. Irwin Garfinkel is Professor Emeritus at the Columbia School of Social Work. He was the first Mitchell I. Ginsberg Professor of Contemporary Urban Problems.

Irwin Garfinkel conducts research on the benefits and costs of existing and proposed welfare state programs. He has examined both universal programs, including national health insurance, child allowances, an assured child support benefit, and basic income as well as means tested programs including Food Stamps, TANF and its predecessor AFDC, and the benefits and costs of means testing as compared to universality. A social worker and economist by training, Dr. Garfinkel’s book Wealth and Welfare States: Is America Laggard or Leader? (Oxford University Press, 2010) and paper “Welfare State Myths and Measurement” challenge widespread half-truths, such as that the American welfare state is small and has always been a laggard, and most important, that the welfare state undermines productivity. In all, he is the author of over 200 articles and 16 books or edited volumes on poverty, income transfers, program evaluation, single-parent families and child support, gene-environment interactions, and the welfare state.

Much of Garfinkel’s work has focused on the economic insecurity of single mothers and their children and policies designed to increase their security. From 1980-1990, he was the principal investigator of the Wisconsin Child Support Study. His research on child support influenced legislation in Wisconsin, other American states, the U.S. Congress, Great Britain, Australia, and Sweden.

His most recent research focuses on the benefits and costs of a universal child allowance. He served on the National Academy of Science Panel that produced the report “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty.” Child allowances were the centerpiece in two of the four program combinations recommended by the committee.

In 1998, in partnership with his wife, Sara McLanahan of Princeton University, Dr. Garfinkel initiated the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Nearly 5,000 children in 20 large American cities were enrolled in the study at birth and are now young adults. In 2012, in collaboration with Chris Wimer, Jane Waldfogel, and Julien Teitler, with funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, he initiated the New York City Longitudinal Survey of Well-being, called the Poverty Tracker. The Poverty Tracker collects representative longitudinal data from New York City residents to track the dynamics of poverty and wellbeing in the city over time.

Dr. Garfinkel was co-founding director of the Columbia Population Research Center from 2007 to 2015 and also co-founding director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy from 2014 to 2022. Previously, Dr. Garfinkel served as the director of the Institute for Research on Poverty from 1975-1980, and the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin from 1982-1984. He also served as Interim Dean of CSSW from 2017 to September 2019.

Garfinkel holds a BA in History from the University of Pittsburgh, an MA in Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a PhD in Social Work and Economics from the University of Michigan.