Could Poverty Be Alleviated With a Tweak to EITC?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wasn’t successful in every venture he tried to implement to improve the city, and he earned a fair amount of grief for some of his ideas. But as a successful businessman, and one of the world’s wealthiest people, he was the kind of politician who served the same way he ran his corporations — with a willingness to take risks.

It’s that kind of leadership that enabled the mayor to drive New York City’s poverty rate down at a time when poverty rates nationally were rising. Several of the experiments that animated New York can be credited with keeping the city’s poverty rate among the lowest in the nation’s 20 largest metro areas even today.

Though Bloomberg has been out of office for a while, the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) launched more than 60 initiatives over an eight-year period, some of which have become national models for success or “are showing enormous promise for their scalability and replicability across the country,” according to Robert Doar, who was commissioner of Bloomberg’s Human Resources Administration during that time.

Now, Doar reports that, while years in the making, one of those initiatives is finally reaching the demonstration project-testing phase, and, if successful, could have a much broader impact.

“Started 40 years ago to offset payroll taxes, the (Earned Income Tax Credit) EITC has become one of the nation’s most successful antipoverty policies. Yet noncustodial parents and single individuals receive an EITC of one-tenth the full value, hardly enough to fatten a paycheck. While the EITC was a powerful tool for helping women and dependent children, it was far less beneficial to fathers of noncustodial children. …

We began by advocating an expansion of the federal EITC for single workers and noncustodial fathers, with the goal of attracting more men into full-time employment and providing them with enough earnings to be a meaningful presence in their children’s lives. The end result would be a reduction of poverty in both parents’ households.

But when our proposal went nowhere, we conceded that the best path to overcoming resistance was to prove it worked at a smaller scale and use the evidence to advance it further.

Today, ‘Paycheck Plus,’ a pilot program to simulate an expanded EITC for low-income single workers without dependent children, is being implemented and evaluated in two cities. The pilot test in New York City began in late 2013 and in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2015. …

If it proves effective, there will finally be concrete evidence that the EITC should be further reformed and expanded on the federal level.”

Read more about New York’s programs for alleviating poverty.