Episode 21: Child Poverty is Personal | How Do We End It?

After a wonderful introduction of the event and history of the Roosevelt House from Harold Holzer and Dr. Basil Smikle, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) opens the night. Sen. Bennet calls on his experience as superintendent of Denver Public Schools and the injustice he saw while in that position.

“I saw every day how growing up in poverty can shape a child’s future in ways that are deeply unfair.” -Sen. Bennet

The senator reminds us all that we lifted millions of children out of poverty just two years ago with a single program called the Expanded Child Tax Credit. It is part of his political work to reinstate this kind of cash payment program, and he thanks Jeff and Carol for the work that the podcast does to call attention to the scourge of child poverty in the richest country in the world.

“Among advanced countries, we’re all kind of equally productive, equally competent, but we make different choices.” - Paul Krugman

Then distinguished economist Paul Krugman says that child poverty is first and foremost a moral issue. His work on the economics of a welfare state looks at multiple countries and compares them. he finds the United States severely lacking and especially cruel.

He notes that we have a weak social safety net, but follows with Senator Bennet’s sentiment that the Expanded Child Tax Credit was a huge help to families across the country. Despite it being both cheap to help children and lucrative in terms of the social return a country would get from investing in its children, that really shouldn’t matter. At the end of the day, “It’s what we should be doing.”

“We can empower families to buy the things that they need.” - Luke Shaefer

Author and professor Luke Shaefer discusses his book The Injustice of Place, which focuses on the regional disparities that exist in this country. Where someone lives in a huge determinant of their ability to earn reliable income, their health outcomes, their education levels, and so much more. He also talks about the historical factors that caused these disparities, and how we do need work done at the local level to combat local and specific problems.

“Return on investment matters to us as philanthropists and as activists.” - Holly Fogle 

While large-scale, systemic change is needed in this space, activist Holly Fogle took matters into her own hands. She cofounded The Bridge Project, which gives mothers and babies $1,000 per month for the first 1,000 days of the child’s life. She put in $35 million of her own money to the project. She is passionate about getting money into the hands of people that need it the most because we should trust that people will know what to do for themselves when money comes with no strings attached. Through her work, she is not only helping families during some of the most expensive years of a child’s life, but she is gathering critical data and stories that will help convince policymakers of the efficacy of programs like these.

“Our mayor and our governor should be saying, ‘Welcome to New York City. We've been waiting for you.’” - Maria Hinojosa

Journalist Maria Hinojosa brings an additional perspective to the discussion. Both her experience as an immigrant child to the United States and a journalist who has dedicated her life to telling the stories of immigrants, she talks about how these issues impact those communities. For one, many non-citizen immigrants are excluded from social programs, and they must not be forgotten when these policies are written. Despite the sacrifices that immigrant families make to come to the U.S. and their substantial contributions when they get here, Maria talks about how anti-immigrant rhetoric is so harmful to this country. She also points out that Latino and Latina are a huge voting block and will be critical in upcoming elections, where some of these battles will be fought.

The panel ends their discussion with their thoughts on programs like the Child Tax Credit, how to determine the correct amounts to offer families, why more regular citizens aren’t invested in this issue, and how poverty impacts wide swatches of people all across the country.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Harold Holzer

Good evening, everyone. Good evening and welcome. I'm Harold Holzer and I have the privilege of serving as director of Roosevelt House. And on behalf of Ann Kirschner, the president of Hunter College, I want to welcome you to this very important evening, the first of three planned, much needed discussions about the persistent plague and disgrace of child poverty. And we're honored that our friends at the Invisible Americans Podcast, and poverty now came forward to propose a partnership with Roosevelt House that begins this evening. Jeff Madrick, the co-host of the podcast is here with us tonight, as is his co-host, a great friend of Roosevelt House, who has served as a grove leader here for our students, the groundbreaking TV journalist Carol Jenkins, thank you both. And you will meet the activists and journalists who will be participating tonight when Carol introduces them. But we're particularly proud to welcome back the Nobel Prize-winning economist and essential New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. None of this would have happened without the help of another great communicator and Hunter College Adjunct Professor Gail Yancosek, who was here and our Rita Hauser, Director of the Roosevelt House Human Rights Program, Jessica Neuwirth, who is sitting there. 

Before we begin just a word about this setting, particularly since some of you are first time visitors. This is as you probably know, the original New York City home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor whose human rights work started when she lived here, commencing with volunteer work at the settlement houses on the Lower East Side whether it was because… kindling of her humanist spirit or because she wanted to get away from her mother in law who control the House is anyone's guess. But it was a career that culminated with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, whose 75th anniversary we are going to mark this year in a program that the aforementioned Jessica Neuwirth is organizing and about, which you will hear more soon. 

So 80 years ago, next month, after the elder Mrs. Roosevelt died, Eleanor engineered the sale of the house, not really a sale, it was something like $50,000 of this house to Hunter College, and we have been here ever since. It was first kind of a retreat for clubs, a place for social gatherings and dances. And then, of course, it evolved into a Public Policy Institute when it was refurbished. But FDR, who made the library upstairs where we all gathered a few minutes ago, his Presidential Transition headquarters from 1932 to 1933. This was the site where he together with his brain trust, and most notably, Frances Perkins, crafted the foundational building blocks of the New Deal. Exploring programs that among other things, like building buildings, at Hunter College and other places, had a direct impact on child poverty during the worst economic downturn in history. 

Concepts that evolved into the National Youth Administration, targeted childhood education aid through the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the building of 1000 new libraries and 6000 schools across the country. Not to mention Frances Perkins programs on minimum wage maximum hours, prohibitions on child labor, a trend we've seen moving in the opposite direction in recent years. And perhaps most important of all, out of the New Deal came the aid to Dependent Children program under Social Security. Not a perfect roster of programs but an astonishing start in a country that had no social safety net until FDR. Speaking of influential people we lost yesterday, a great woman who has been a very important part of Roosevelt House and all of its programs – Anita Summers, Anita Arrow Summers who I just found out this afternoon, died yesterday at the wonderful age of 98 and change. 

You will see her name on the plaque outside the four freedoms room. She also worked to create programs, graduate research programs for students. And she was actually a founder of the original curriculum of the Public Policy Program at Hunter College. She has a great legacy. Her husband won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Paul, as you may know, her father won the Nobel Prize in Economics. The only reason Anita didn't win the Nobel Prize in Economics is she took 15 years off to raise Larry Summers. And the result was Larry and John and Rick. So she was a little bit held back in her career and got terrible job offers when she went back into the workforce. But she ended up at the Wharton School and was an extraordinary teacher. And for us, a benefactor whom will miss very much. Speaking of the public policy program curriculum that she founded. Let me turn the program over to the director of the Public Policy Program, Dr. Basil Smikle.

Basil Smikle

Thank you very much, Harold. Good evening, everybody. Oh, I'll do that one more time. Good evening, everybody. It's good to be with all of you today. Thank you so much, Harold, for your words.I'm very proud to be co-hosting this event with my partner here, Jessica Neuwirth. Wonderful program. And thank you so much for your partnership and ongoing partnership and collaboration, Jessica. Just a couple of points about the public policy program, as well. 

For those who have not been to our building before and been able to be a part of our programs, we would love for you to come back. Come back, come back, come back, I see some of our faculty members [INAUDIBLE] and Michael, good to see you. For the wonderful courses that we teach here, but also the wonderful programming. Tomorrow we have the regional director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, coming to talk to our students about urban development and housing policy. Early next month, or mid month, in November, we have the CEO of the National Urban League to come and talk to our students about voting and democratization and civil engagement in today's environment. So incredible programming, and we invite all of you to come back to hear from our wonderful guests and to meet our students. They could really use a lot of your guidance, your support, your mentorship, because our students really do. I would say, if any of them could run for office today, they would. They're amazing. Amazing talent, amazing energy and we're just here. We're not engineers, we're shepherds. We’re just here to sort of shepherd them through these few years of Hunter and to get them out into the world and make sure that they're successful. But we want you to be a part of that effort. So again, thank you for being here. But we would love to see you come back and support a lot of the work that we do here. 

I don't have much of a speech today. All I get to do is introduce two amazing people, but I will tell you, they are really amazing people. So I'm very proud of this moment. Jeff Madrick, the co-host of the Invisible Americans Podcast, author of seven books on the economy, including Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty, who is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, a New York Times columnist and an Emmy Award-winning television financial analyst. Jeff, we are happy to have you with us today. Thank you. 

And Carol Jenkins, I always hate saying this because I know how it may get received some way by something. But I grew up watching you and I love you. And it was thrilling to be able to about a year or so ago be on her program at CUNY TV for black Americans which she hosted and I was on with Errol Louis from New York One talking about, yet again, democratization, civil engagement and our elections. You are also the co-host of the Invisible Americans Podcast and Emmy-winning former anchor and correspondent, founding president of the Women's Media Center, past president CEO of the ERA Coalition, which we are very involved with here at Roosevelt House and the co-author with Elizabeth Hines of Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire, which is a biography of your uncle. Wonderful. We are glad to have you and the wonderful panelists here today. So thank you all very much for coming. Wonderful to see all of you. Have a good evening.

Carol Jenkins  

Jeff, you can join me here, you know, Jeff is always outnumbered by women in our project. And I want you to know, he's a perfect gentleman. Although we fight when we do the podcast, if you've ever had a chance to listen to it, and we hope you will. Jeff really has to fight to get a word in edgewise. But since he is the expert, we do let him have his say. 

To Harold, Basil and to Jessica Neuwirth we want to thank you so much for inviting us into the Roosevelt House family. I do feel that this is the proper home for a campaign to end child poverty, the proper home for a brand new deal, we believe, as you will hear in cash, and that’s gonna be a major part of the solution of our problems. 

So we’re here speaking on behalf of the nearly 13 million children in this country, who go to bed hungry at night, who may not have a place to sleep, who may live in a violent environment, and who are invisible. And that's our purpose, as Jeff wrote in his transformative book, and it really is the basis of our work that we do every week, is to uplift their condition. The fact that getting something done is so hard. But we know now that there are answers, as our panelists will tell you. We know what the solution is now. If only we can, we can do it. So Jeff is going to introduce one of our friends, one of our great guests on our podcast. He always complains about my script, I want you to know that.

Jeff Madrick  

The truth is I just wanted to extemporize, which is what I usually do, but Carol wouldn't let me, she insisted I read this script. So if you find it corny, so do I. Among the guests, Carol and I have interviewed Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, lead sponsor of the American Family Act, which includes reauthorization of the expanded child tax credit. For our gathering, he sent this message.

Senator Michael Bennet

Hi everybody, it's Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado. I want to start by thanking Jeff Madrick and Carol Jenkins for everything they do to highlight the often invisible reality of child poverty in America. I'm sorry, I couldn't join you in person. But I'm honored to share a few words on why Invisible Americans' advocacy for our kids is so critically important. When I was the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. I saw every day how growing up in poverty can shape a child's future in ways that are deeply unfair. And as a society, we paid the price. Child poverty costs our country up to $1 trillion a year in the form of more hospital visits, lower earnings, and higher crime. 

Two years ago, we finally passed the biggest investment in kids and families. In more than a generation, the expanded Child Tax Credit benefited 62 million kids, cut child poverty nearly in half, and reduced hunger for families by quarter. And for six shining months, we treated America's children in poverty like they were our kids, not someone else's. But when Congress failed to extend this lifeline, we turned our backs on working families, and we turned our backs on their kids. And because of that failure, child poverty more than doubled in the US from 2021 to 2022, Congress plunged 5 million new kids into poverty. That wasn't an accident. And now families are once again forced to make impossible decisions to put food on the table. That is unacceptable. We know how to end child poverty in this country. It starts with expanding child tax rates. We have an opportunity at the end of this year to get something done on the child tax credit. And that's where the work of Invisible Americans comes in. The conversations you're having today will be critical to our success. And let me end by saying the richest country should not have one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. With your help. I'm confident we can find a path forward to end childhood poverty in America once and for all. Thank you.

Jeff Madrick  

Time and again, I'm asked, “What does Paul Krugman think about what you're saying today?” This has happened to me countless times over my career. The staff of our podcast has often asked the same question based on our discussions in child poverty. What does Krugman think? This has been echoed throughout the economics community. And he has accepted our invitation to speak to us about just that, about the costs of child poverty, and what we might be able to do about it. He won the Nobel Prize, as all of you know, for economics in 1988, based on serious innovative trade theory, since then, he's written authoritatively and plowed new ground on inequality, productivity, health care, deficit spending, and other significant subjects. Lately, he has been writing, maybe to some people's surprise on falling inflation, crossing swords with many mainstream economists, as is his want. He is surely the best known progressive economist in the world, writing 1000s of columns in the New York Times and other columns on the internet. He adds that he is a firm believer in the welfare state. With that, we welcome Paul, for a few comments on this.

Paul Krugman

I just want to say it's a tremendous honor to be asked to start this thing off. And I think an undeserved honor, if I might say, I am not, what two things really. First, child poverty is first and foremost. It's a moral issue. There are technocratic aspects. But it's not something where your starting point should be to talk about the technocratic aspects of how to do it, and what are the consequences. And I am not an activist. I'm not a crusader. I am a technocrat. And in some ways I feel a little abashed, especially given some of the members of the panel have done so much, devoted their lives so much to try and to make progress on this issue. 

The other thing is that even though as far as the technocratic aspects go, I am not an expert on child poverty. My writing for the New York Times obliges me to pretend to know lots to be an expert on lots of things. But I am not at all on this. I want to say just a few things I do teach, as Jeff [INAUDIBLE] my starting thing was international trade. That was my starting career. But I have moved more and more over the years into issues of poverty, inequality, social justice. And I, at this point, teach a course at the CUNY Graduate Center called Economics of the Welfare State, which is mostly cross national, because the one thing that is spectacular about that is we have a [INAUDIBLE] advanced countries, we're all kind of equally productive, equally competent, but we make different choices. And so there's a lot of ability to compare, what different countries do. 

In many of these comparisons, the United States stands out as being especially cruel, I guess, is the word. We have the weakest social safety net, the least generous programs of any major advanced country. But one thing that you do notice in this is that US social spending isn't all that low. Compared with other advanced countries. We do spend less as a share of GDP on social programs than others, but it's not as dramatic as you might think. What is really dramatic is that we don't spend on children. 

The United States has programs for people my age, we have actually quite generous single payer health care system for people over 65. We have a reasonably not, could be bigger, but our retirement system is not all that underfunded. But if you do a chart of spending on families with children, the United States is off the chart. At the bottom. We just completely neglect and that is shocking, because children are cheap. Helping children is cheap. You see that certainly on issues of health care, right? The cost of providing guaranteed health care to a child is tiny. Compared with that of taking care of seniors and yet we do take care of seniors and many children fall through the cracks. So that's my first observation. The astonishing failure of the US as a society is providing a floor for all of our people. Mostly, the real victims are children. 

Second thing, and Senator Bennet said, for a brief moment there, we became a kind of normal civilized country. For a few months, in response to COVID, we actually created a full scale, social safety net, especially for children. On the one hand, we showed that we could do it. On the other hand, we proved, unfortunately, that we were not willing to continue it. The task and others on we'll talk more about how we get there. How do we get back to that? We proved that we can do it. It's not impossible. But we proved that we can do it. 

I want to make a technocratic point. I'm not sure if people will fully appreciate this. And actually something I only appreciated in the last couple of years. Even though I teach this course every year. We talk a lot about trade offs between equity and efficiency. That's the old line, which is at some level has to be true, right? A society with 100% marginal tax rates would probably not work. But when you talk to people, when you look at people try to claim that the US has sufficiently high marginal tax rates, in some sense that there are real problem for incentives. It turns out there's no evidence whatsoever that high tax rates, that the tax rates we have on high income people are a significant deterrent. If you actually work it out, if you're a somebody earning your income in New York City, as opposed to private equity managers saying, but our high—actually, from my favorite line from the movie Wall Street, a 400,000 year working Wall Street stiff, right, if you’re in that class, you probably face a marginal tax rate of something like 55%. And we all know how lazy and slow moving New Yorkers are right? There's no indication that the taxes on the rich are on the affluent, on the upper middle class or lower upper class are a significant deterrent. 

When people try to make the case that we have really serious incentive problems, they tend to focus on the high effective marginal tax rates, created by means tested programs, which are withdrawn as your income goes up and can create on paper, something like 80 or more percent marginal tax rates. But it only occurred to me fairly recently is that the examples used for all of those claims that we have high disincentive effects, it's almost always a single parent with children. And my God, are we really worried more about the disincentive effects on single mothers to work than we are about making sure that those single mothers have enough resources to take care of their children. So this is something that comes up in the course always and I've now realized that those marginal tax rate calculations are applied to exactly the people for whom that should be irrelevant. What matters is the children. 

And finally, I think as Senator Bennet was alluding to this, it turns out, it shouldn't matter. All of this is really just about morality, we should be taking care of children. But it turns out that it's also the case that it's practical to take care of children. One of the funny things that I do talk to my students about is that there's a sense that investing in physical stuff, steel and concrete and infrastructure, that's real investment in the future and investing in squishy stuff like making sure that kids have adequate nutrition and health care is, well, maybe it's even woke, I don't know. But anyway, the fact of the matter is, we have far more evidence for really big social returns to investing in children than we do on anything else. And people on panel and people in this audience know that that comes because we actually have what amount to natural experiments. As programs were rolled out, we really really know that taking care of children pays off, it probably pays off even in the narrowest fiscal sense in the long run definitely pays off in terms of society. I don't know, people on this panel may have better- I don't know how we get this through, but this is what we should be doing. If there's one thing above all, where America falls down it is in taking care of kids, and I'm so glad to see this panel, and this conference, talking about that.

Carol Jenkins  

I was telling Janet Gornick, who heads up the Stone Center, where Professor Krugman teaches, is a fellow that I said, you know, actually, can you ask him this? Can you ask him that? I think I'm a little afraid of him, in awe is the term but we're delighted that you are here. 

Let me introduce our other presenters today: Holly Fogle, a philanthropist and social activist, co-founder of the Monarch Foundation, and The Bridge Project with a commitment to supporting mothers and babies for the first 1000 days. And that's with $1,000 a month. So yeah. She'll tell you she's doing it in New York, and in Connecticut and in Appalachia and worldwide soon. Maria Hinojosa Pulitzer Prize Peabody Award, Emmy Award-winning journalist, founder of the nonprofit multicultural communications project Futuro Media and author of Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America. H. Luke Shaefer, Herman and Emily Kahn, professor, and associate dean at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. And he's director of Poverty Solutions there and co-author, with Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson of The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America. And I recommend both of the books, Luke, Maria, Holly. Thank you all so much for being here today. 

I gotta start with Luke, because he had breaking news today. We had a briefing call this morning, and he said very nonchalantly, "Oh, you know, we're going to be at the White House tomorrow, presenting," and we're all like, "About child poverty? Really?” So Luke, if you could start with [INAUDIBLE] and tell us a little bit about what's up this week in Washington?

H. Luke Shaefer

Sure. So I have two things that I'm incredibly excited about. The first is my book, The Injustice of Place, it's a follow up to a book I wrote with Kathryn Edin called $2.00 a Day a number of years ago. But this book really looks at our regional disparities. In some places in the United States, the American Dream is alive and well, if you grew up, or you're just as likely to rise to the middle class, and in other places, if you grew up, or you're gonna likely to be poor as an adult. 

So how do we deal with these deep, deep differences, differences in life expectancy that are more than a decade depending on where you live, sometimes even more in small areas of geography. So we're gonna be talking about that in this project that much like $2.00 a Day started with data, but then ended with deep ethnography and a lot of historical analysis, because these regional differences did not just appear out of thin air, there's deep histories that go into understanding where all of our social problems are. We’re going to be talking about that and thinking about all of the ways in this book, which was a book of surprises for me, that we need to address these disparities, like local government corruption or social infrastructure. But the other project that is in part and inspired by the work that Holly is doing is a new project that I'm working on in Flint, Michigan, which is trying to build on the legacy of the expanded Child Tax Credit. 

We're starting in January, every pregnant mom will receive $1,500. Every expectant mom in the city of Flint, $1,500 and then $500 a month until their baby turns age one would be the first time we've ever done this at a city level. And doing it with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, we were able to unlock state funds for that. And so in this moment where I think we're all mourning the loss of the expanded child tax credit, and obviously, there's still a lot of support for it. There are things that cities and states can do, to take up the mantle and really sort of live into that call that all three of you really started us off with.

Carol Jenkins  

Thanks, Luke, for that very much, Holly, you've inspired as Luke says a lot of this work, because it's not just what the federal government can do, or states or cities, but it's what individuals can do. And I hope you don't mind me saying that you've committed as a starter $35 million to the mothers and children of New York and beyond that, tell us a little bit about how you came to that. And I want you to know, it's hardly any questions asked and it's cash. It's not a promise of a tax deduction. It's cash that mothers can use.

Holly Fogle  

Thank you, Carol. Delighted to be with you all, and so delighted to be with you all on the stage. You know, I will say we are baby people first and cash people second is the way we think about it. My husband and I, and I think I had been working in the space of early childhood anonymously, quietly, for many years in New York City and when COVID hit some of the work that we were supporting, basically amazing organizations, but they just said, we can't solve these problems fast enough, the city is in lockdown, what do we do. And so we funded a bunch of cash at the moment, just dispersals. And I think what we saw from that was then the beginning of the idea that has become The Bridge Project, because what we saw was that these women use the money very smartly, but also very, very differently. And I think that's one of the keys of when we trust people to know what they need to do for themselves and their families. They make very wise decisions. And particularly when we trust a mother with an infant, she makes very, very wise decisions. 

And so I think for us, that was the kernel of what we now call The Bridge Project. By the end of this year, we will have 1100 mothers enrolled across all five boroughs plus Rochester. And we start when they're pregnant, and we follow them for the first 1000 days of that baby's life. And as Carl said, it’s completely unrestricted cash because I think there are a few tenants that were really important to us. One is this idea of prevent versus undo that Paul was just talking about, Jeff was just talking about, it is so much easier if we are working to have healthy nutrition, access to child care, access to health care, in those earliest days than when we try to undo things way down the road with after school programs and prisons and a lot of other stuff. 

ROI. I'm a finance major, my husband was a finance major, we both went to Wharton. He's a venture capitalist. ROI matters to us as philanthropists and as activists. And so, as Carol said, we have a lot of our own money invested in these mothers. And we wouldn't be doing that if we didn't see the result and believe in cash being the most efficient and effective bit. And I would say the final piece for me that is heartfelt back to morality, to your guys' point is I grew up in Appalachia, about two hours from where Mr. Manchin grew up. And the poverty rate in my county today is 29% for children. There are no jobs, it is hard, hard going. But what I saw was a group of resilient women who would come together to bake pies to put a new roof on a church, pass a hat to bury someone's child. And I saw women I think, bring out the better angels, I would say. And so this idea of trusting a group of people to know what they need to do, I think resonates with me sort of a cellular level.

Carol Jenkins  

Thank you, thank you for that Holly. Maria, we've relied on your voice for so many years to uplift the impoverished, the immigrant population and often, in the solutions that we're looking at the immigrant populations are still not included, are still not thought of. And so I want you to talk a little bit about the work that you've done throughout your career to change that.

Maria Hinojosa

It's great to be here, obviously, thank you so much, Carol. It's just I mean, Carol Jenkins teaching us all how to do it. And also the truth is, is that journalists never retire. 

Carol Jenkins 

This is true.

Maria Hinojosa

Just not in our DNA. It's not going to happen. So you're an inspiration, Carol. So I actually want to kind of flip a little bit so that you all, so that we're sharing the same kind of data, because this is data that is not necessarily out there in a big way. Like the New York Times is not putting a big headline above the fold that says, “Oh my god, Latinos and Latinas are the second largest voting cohort in the United States of America.” So I'm gonna let you sit with that. Latinos and Latina voters are the second largest voting cohort in the United States. Latinos and Latinas right now, our median age more or less is between the ages of 11 and 12. Okay, about every 60 seconds, a Latino or Latina turns 18 in the United States of America. Now, if you think about all of that, and demographics, Holly and I have become fast friends, because she's working in Connecticut and I live in Harlem, New York City, but I have a cottage. Very important word, cottage in Connecticut, it was lived in by raccoons, but we come from Harlem, we weren't scared of raccoons. 

But the fastest growing demographic in Connecticut apart from New Yorkers, it was a joke, is Latino Latina population, right. And so when I go to Connecticut, that's my entry point. And actually, the pandemic changed everything because who would get a manicure in Connecticut? Right. But because of the pandemic, I'm now getting a manicure with the Ecuadorian woman who has a small business, who has older kids, but just gave birth. And now I'm connected into a whole other dynamic of these towns in Connecticut, like Watertown, Waterbury, my town is Bethlehem. And just kind of thinking about what I'm seeing transformationally, in the state of Connecticut that most people are like, “Connecticut, super wealthy. Why? Like, what's the issue?” Right? And it's been changed by if we were going to summit Yeah, actually, by young Latinos and Latinas, who actually 100% believe in the American dream. 

So there's something that I mean, I'm not exactly addressing poverty, because there's so much potential here, right? I'm thinking about something that happened, I don't know in the last 48 hours, where there's a possibility that a young person is about to be deported. And it's like this young person was educated, came to the United States, undocumented at the age of five, and has been educated in the United States, is now working as a dental technician on 145th and Broadway. But he said, “If they decide to deport me, I'll go back to Mexico, I'll actually make more money being an optometrist technician, I'll make more money in Mexico than I will here. So go ahead and deport me.” And I'm like, This is ridiculous. Because what we are doing then is actually deporting all of the economics, Paul, that we put into educating this person, getting them to be fully bilingual, unable to afford college, but got into college. And what a waste. 

Now, if you think about what we're dealing with right now, in this city, which is something I don't know, for the last like—Carroll Hall, I don't know if you've seen this. I came to New York in 1979. I was born in Mexico, I'm an immigrant who became an American citizen, but I don't remember ever seeing anti-immigrant, anti-refugee protests in front of places with children coming to our city, which makes me think, why is that happening? The investigative journalist in me is like, “My New Yorkers are ridiculously busy, we're just gonna find time to suddenly come out and start protesting against families?” Right? Now, you're like, “Why is that happening?” But the bigger issue is that, well, people are saying, “Oh, my God, it's gonna cost New York.” 

And actually, these kids—just to focus on the kids—are the ones that our mayor and our governors should be saying, “Welcome to New York City, we've been waiting for you, you're the best, you are the most incredible, you are the ones who are never going to stop because you've learned from your parents, that they are going to sacrifice everything to get you to the American dream, you're gonna go through jungles, you're gonna have to cross that wall, you're gonna be put in detention, it's gonna be horrible. But you're not going to give up because New Yorkers are born hustlers. And that's what we want in our city.” And instead… The message is, get out of here. 

This is the Savior for New York City. This is the potential. And I'm one of those kids. Like if you take away all that, I mean, that's why once I was you, because, yes, my dad was a genius who helped to create the cochlear implant at the University of Chicago, plucked from Mexico to do that. But you know, I was almost taken from my mother at the airport in Dallas. When we arrived in the United States in 1962. I was one of those kids, who was almost taken from the arms of my mother because I had a rash and I was, sorry, the slur, I was considered by law, a dirty Mexican. So it could have been me, that was taken from my mom and left in some room in the airport to be picked up and taken. I don't know where. So it could have been me. I see that it's just for the grace of God. But for all of us, and that's why I love what Holly's doing. We're just like, “Oh my god, I'm so fascinated.” I want to know everything. I want to document this. I want to see it because what it is saying is potential, possibility, growth,. 

Basil and I were just talking because I'm like, “Yeah, I think the election is going to be close.” But you know, who I think is going to carry the election — young, Latino and Latina voters. That's who I think is going to carry it and I believe, because the issues of abortion and climate change are in their top five, I don't necessarily see that going red. So well everybody's complaining about young Latinos and Latinas and coming to our city and taking and taking. Actually, our democracy is depending on them.

Carol Jenkins  

Our democracy is depending on them. And that is really what Jeff says in his book and what Paul said, in a great op-ed to where he—I don't know—you'd use the word stupid and crazy, or was that my imagination? I said, "Only Paul Krugman could get away with that” Even in the New York Times,you know that we are so uninterested in the future of our democracy, of our country that we would let millions of children languish. Jeff, did you want to say anything? 

Jeff Madrick  

I want to talk a little bit about the child tax credit. I know some people close off to that, because it's discussed so much. But it's a cash allowance, without considerations, without demands, without questions. And it's worked. And I think that's what Paul was referring to in 2021. And all the rest of us have discussed this. This actually worked to cut child poverty, and it had results. Young kids were healthier, they weren't as hungry or hungry at all. It literally reduced suffering and raised the promise for the young so let me ask you all about what to do next, in a concrete way, not just to cheerlead them. But to get these kids on a path.

H. Luke Shaefer

The very first thing that I would do is bring back the expanded Child Tax Credit, as you said, it worked. And all of the metrics that you mentioned are true, millions of children pulled out of poverty. Food hardship goes to the all time lows that we've seen, parents mental health improves, we now have a number of peer reviewed papers finding this. The number of American families saying they could handle a $400 expense, it's an all time high. And one of my personal favorites, actually, the number of Americans with bad credit falls to the lowest level that we've had since we started keeping records. 

So the interesting thing, of course, is that a cash assistance program that we had for decades was not that popular. Its dependent children started in the New Deal. Of course, a program that looks an awful lot similar in structures, social security, which provides monthly cash payments, and we saw elderly poverty just plummet. So we sort of see it work over and over again, right. But I think one of the fundamental pieces that I really learned was, the child tax credit was also popular. Something like 55 60 65% of Americans thought that this was good policy. And I think a big part of that is that we stopped doing the thing that we do in this country that's so different than most other Western countries, which is to segment and say, This is what poor families get, this is what middle class families get. 

And when we make programs for poor families, of course, then we have to do a lot of things to make sure only people who really deserve it, get it and in my home state of Michigan, when you were so poor, that you went to try to get $300 of cash assistance. Just a few years ago, you had to answer questions like the date of the conception of your child. So it's not just that we provided a small amount of money. It's not that we just made you answer question after question. We strip people of their dignity. And I think programs that really tried to take the exact opposite approach and enhance people's dignity and start from this logic that child allowances all over the entire world start with saying you know what? Raising kids is expensive. And society has a reason to come alongside parents in that work. And we can empower families to buy the things that they need, just like Hollywood is saying, right? 

Some families need food, some need shelter. Some families need diapers, or childcare or more books, right. And so by giving families money, we're telling them that we trust them. And it's also a lot more efficient. We rolled out the child tax credit and the economic impact payments in weeks. Three months, we had the plan before we got child tax credit payments to 60 plus million kids, just incredible. We've never done anything like that before. 

Our housing assistance programs that had to be built up and made direct payments to landlords and had means test. It took months and months and months like huge lag time and those programs did important things too but we don't need to spend all of that money on all of that administration, right. When we know things that can work. I think before COVID If you'd said we could have a policy that brought child poverty to an all time low that families would have better credit. As a result, food hardship would be down. And families would be less anxious, like, Who would have believed it? Right? But now we've seen what's possible. And we can look for small ways through state child tax credits. Municipal programs, like Rx Kids, to beat the drum until the opportunity comes to bring it back at the federal level.

Carol Jenkins  

Yeah, Holly, I want you to address the amount of money that it requires because it's reflective of what's going on in the economy, because I remember asking you, you know, you started out with a $500 payment and decided, you found that that wasn't enough to make a difference in a person's life.

Holly Fogle  

Yes. And so when we first started our first cohort two and a half years ago, we have done an in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania center for guaranteed income research, and we had big questions around how much money is really required to your point, Carol. And so we did a group of $500 a month and a group of $1,000 a month. And what we saw was that the group of $1,000 started to access childcare at much higher rates, they re-entered the workforce, their savings went up, that wasn't a surprise there was more money, of course, but their mental health was also improving. And they were seeing Penn Center for guaranteed income research was running pilots out in California as well in LA, not with mothers. The Bridge Project is the largest program in the country for babies, but they were running it just on people and they were seeing very similar things. And what we all postulate in this data is, at $500 a month, it's not enough money to pay for child care to be able to actually re enter the workforce. But at $1,000, it starts to make some meaningful differences. 

I think the other thing we've always felt was very important is to have a longer runway, because what we see in the beginning is the moms, it goes into a bank account, they have a debit card, they can take it out whenever they want. In the first month, they tend to take it out very, very fast. They don't trust that that money will be there tomorrow. But as time goes on about the month, four to six, they start to realize the money's going to stay. And so I think this longer term timeframe, as well allows a woman to start to plan and to think about what this means. And we just had a mom, I think we always talk about food, diapers, vegetables, being able to access a hospital. But we just had a mom who told us she had been saving six months of her money to be able to leave a partner that she thought was going to kill her, with a four month old baby. 

And so you think of both the courage and the resilience of that woman. But she said, I've never been able to leave. All the accounts are in his name, the lease is in his name. I have an infant, how do I support ourselves? And so I think, of course, it's diapers and strollers and safe sleep spots. It's also this dignity, that you're talking about Luke, of giving people the ability to say I am in charge of my life and this child's life, and I'm going to do what I need to do. But that requires more than $500 a month in New York City.

Carol Jenkins  

In New York City. Right. Right. Whereas in Michigan and in your community the $500 is substantial enough to make a difference. Paul, I want to ask you about a couple of things that are happening, we still have some big decisions to make in Congress before the end of the year.

Paul Krugman

What makes you think we have a congress but anyway—

Carol Jenkins  

I know we say—use the word. I don’t know, and when we read about what is intended to be cut, it's just staggering that a food for children and for families, home, rent, subsidies, all of the things that are so essential to our children are on the chopping block.

Paul Krugman

What amazes me about this is that there is not as far as I can make out, a really large constituency of ordinary Americans who want this, that if you ask people about issues, people tend to be in favor of supporting children, of supporting the poor. What we really are talking about is a kind of an elite supported by, I don't want to quite say conspiracy, but clearly these are not mass public demands. One of the mysteries I always find is why we talk about populace in US politics. But why aren't there any actual populists? Why are all these people who cater to popular prejudices and fears but never actually advocate actual popular policies that it's not entirely—in Europe it does exist. In Europe there are people who hate immigrants and are kind of blood and soil nationalists but also favor generous child allowances and so on. In the United States, that just doesn't happen. And I can give you some stories about that. But it is amazing that we are contemplating this and a lot of it, I think it depends on the fact that voters have no idea. You actually asked if how many people actually know what the Republican Study Group has been advocating? I think that much. I doubt that it's even one in 20 New York Times readers, let alone the general public.

Carol Jenkins  

Right. Right. Jeff, one of the things that you always ask on our podcast, and in your book is why does America hate its poor and hate its children? Why do they hate?

Jeff Madrick  

Well, it’s very disturbing to me, I think a lot of this has to do with the color of people. A lot of this has to do with a sense that these people are simply not responsible, and you can't make them responsible. And there's so little evidence that that's true. There's so much evidence, they want to help, they want to take care of their children. And for anybody who doubts that, go read the real literature on this, and how much people spend on their kids when they get these allowances. And it's true in Europe, also, they want to take care of their kids, they want the kids to have a chance. And as many people advocate, including Paul and Luke, and I think, certainly I know of Holly, and I'm sure you do as well, Maria, it's better for the country. These people become productive workers, they become happy, they start businesses, they work for others. So let's get it right. We know how to do it. And we dedicated this podcast to getting this right. And it's amazing how many majorities there are in America that believe in some form of welfare state, from helping the poor, to helping those burdened with an unwanted pregnancy. And on and on.

Paul Krugman

Can I just say a word? Also, I think Luke's point is what you've been talking about. It's astonishing to me, how the public image of the person who benefits from programs that help children is still an inner city person of color, when so many of them are now rural whites in  the left behind parts of America.

Carol Jenkins  

Holly, did you want to talk about that? I can tell that you do because—

Holly Fogle  

 Trying to be good. 

Carol Jenkins 

We have talked about this. 

Holly Fogle  

Well, I think two things that were going through my head, as Carol knows, we're headed to Appalachia in 2024. So a big slice out of Connecticut and a big chunk out of Appalachia, where I grew up. But I think the other bit that was going through my head is people also I think believe this is somehow a problem that is intractable and we just need to learn to live with it. And I think what's interesting is like when I talk about Connecticut, there are 3300 babies born into the state of Connecticut into poverty a year. So we're going to take 500 of them next year. So we're down under 3000 now. We could do this with some will. We could even do this as private philanthropists for a period of time. Clearly, it is not sustainable over decades. But I think that's part of what the Bridge Project wants to do is to show people that this is actually solvable. And it's solvable child by child, city by city. And I think, certainly in Appalachia as well, that's an important demographic that everybody says the rural white poverty, which I understand well, is going to be important to help push on the federal level.

Carol Jenkins  

Luke, I was very moved by your section, in your book on Appalachia, the sort of subhuman characteristics that the white Appalachians were considered to be, you know, working and living in the company store and really, truly subhuman. Most of us think that that's the way people perceive people of color but here in Appalachia, it's essentially the same idea working and talk to us a little bit about that.

H. Luke Shaefer

Yeah, that's a big part of the argument we make in the book is the book really traces it gets to know communities in Eastern Kentucky, Central Appalachia and the Cotton Belt in the Mississippi Delta in South Carolina, and then in South Texas. And Maria, I know you've been doing a lot of thinking about South Texas as well. And these places have all been studied separately, but one of the arguments we make is that the stories really should be linked. They're all places that were dominated by a single industry and industry by the way, that didn't just matter for the region, but with cotton, with cold, with tabletop vegetables and South Texas, they matter for the entire country. And in fact, the development of the entire world as cotton goes overseas to the UK. 

They were all dominated by a single industry controlled by a small group of people that required a large labor force. And so a set of practices were put in place to enforce that. And the ones we know the most, and rightly so is slavery, followed by Jim Crow. But the migrant farm laborers in South Texas also had sub citizenship, they were stripped of their rights. Those communities were controlled by Anglo farm owners and ranch owners and in Appalachia, as well. So you can trace a lot of this dehumanizing sort of Appalachians. And as a way to sort of become okay. And this gets at part of the reason why I think there is a lot of hate for vulnerable groups is because we need it, we need to dehumanize as a nation to make what is true, okay. And to enforce the sort of the practices and the way that the world is that benefits a certain segment and honestly benefits us as a nation. 

Carol Jenkins  


Maria Hinojosa

I think the issue of—I mean, it's ugly. But the truth is, is that the demographic change in our country is something that has, I mean, what's the greatest wound in the United States of America, right? It's the racial division that we have yet to understand. And I think it's important to put into context when we all heard the voices because a great ProPublica piece when we all heard the voices of the babies and toddlers, and children who had been taken from their parents at the border, and we were all so horrified. But the truth is, this country has been taking away children since the beginning, right? So I'm gonna say something that you all are going to freak out about. So I'm giving you warning, giving you a warning, because what I'm gonna say you're gonna be like, “Oh” but it's for the context of this conversation, right? 

So if you look at the United States, from our founding fathers and mothers, which are the first peoples of this country, right, indigenous people, then the people who arrived, i.e. the pilgrims, well, they would look at them and say that they're, the people who came here are actually the first illegal aliens ever to come into the United States. Right? When that happens, right? Indigenous babies are then taken from their parents at that point, right? And then that's repeated. By the way, I'd be interested with Paul in this conversation. I don't just say slavery. To me, slavery is international corporatized, government supported human trafficking. So we all have to kind of be like, “Oh, if you see something, say something.” Well, our country was built on that. Right? So those children were being taken away from their parents and then Japanese Americans children were being taken away. So this is part of this notion of where it’s changing America, and we don't want to see a change, and therefore, do we really want to help them? Especially if it's increasingly black, indigenous, Latino, maybe speaking English with an accent. The narrative that I'm getting even I live in Harlem, I'm a proud Harlem. [INAUDIBLE] I'm even hearing from my black cab drivers up in Harlem. “I don't know if we want these immigrants here. You know, they're taking everything, they're just coming in. They're getting all that free ride.” And I'm like, wow, that this is happening in our city? Right, especially with many of the immigrants and refugees who are arriving are black. 

Part of what we're talking about, and the importance of this panel, right is to correct the narrative. Right? That actually, poor children are not takers, right? They're not looking for a handout, right? They actually want to be the most productive possible. And we all have to be in the process of dismantling these narratives that are repeated over and over again, which are untrue. Right? So for me just to leave it at this. For me, it's an old joke, but I think you guys are New Yorkers, you'll enjoy it. But it's a little shocking too so I'm warning you. 

We all had to come to terms with the fact that a man was running for president on lies just his opening lines about Mexican immigrants. I'm a Mexican immigrant, right? That we are criminals and rapists, etc. So not true. We know this right? Because the data shows it. Actually, immigrant communities are safer than communities where US citizens live. But anyway, the joke is that, during the Trump administration, I was five things that he disliked actively. Mexican, immigrant journalist, woman, flat chested. Okay, that's it. I just needed to make people laugh a little bit.

Carol Jenkins  

Paul did you have a—Maria was drawing you into that—

Paul Krugman

No, I mean, well, first of all, this substantive thing. Actually, I'm doing some background research for somebody that will eventually show up. And part of the question is why New York City is kind of miraculous. It is the safest place in America, has half the murder rate of other major cities, and also has extremely high life expectancy. And I've been trying to figure out I think a very large part of it is the prevalence of immigrants in the city, the who are more law-abiding and in general healthier because who comes? people who are of interest and it's a—by the way I got amazing hate mail you might imagine but the best is I get some of the sort of like Sheriff Joe supporters. I treasure the letter I got that said “You don't understand what it's like on the border. How would you feel if New York City was full of immigrants?” The other thing, I just all of this. I can't. Do people still listen to Tom Lehrer songs? The National Brotherhood Week and the choruses the Hindus hate the Muslims and the Protestants hate the Catholics, Catholics hate Protestants. And, of course, the last [INAUDIBLE], everybody hates the Jews.

Carol Jenkins  

Thank you. Thank you. I think we are at the end.

Jeff Madrick  

We’re gonna wrap it up. I think everybody on our panel and everybody in our podcast is dedicated to reducing child poverty sharply. We know the issues. We know the damage it does. And we know that many people who are blamed for child poverty are blameless. To cut poverty sharply, a first requirement would be to develop an appreciation of the potential of the millions of poor people to have some faith in the poor. As the great philosopher Amartya Sen, an economist argues, poverty is quote on unfreedom. Mollie Orshansky, the prime developer of the American poverty line and a former member of this social security administration insisted that her poverty line was not one above which people will escape hardship. Rather, and I'll close on this, it should be one below which no one should live. And we're dedicated to that.

Carol Jenkins  

Thank you to Luke Maria, Holly and Paul. And to you all for being with us. We have two more convenings scheduled this fall here at Roosevelt House on November 15th. We're doing something with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Alissa Quart, and on December 13th with Holly Fogle. Really, truly expanding on the question: Is cash the answer? Let’s say let's give them the money so they could live. Thank you all so much for being with us.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Paul Krugman

Distinguished Professor, Economics

Paul Krugman joined the Ph.D. Economics Program in 2015 as a Distinguished Scholar. Since 2014, he has served as a distinguished scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at the Graduate Center. Before joining the GC, he was a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School; prior to his appointment at Princeton, he served on the faculties of MIT, Yale and Stanford. In 2008, he was the sole recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade theory. He has also received the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association and the Asturias Award given by King of Spain, considered to be the European Pulitzer Prize. He is the author or editor of more than 25 books and over 200 published professional articles, and well-known to the general public as an op-ed columnist and blogger for The New York Times. His four recent trade books, End This Depression Now!, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, The Conscience of a Liberal and The Great Unraveling became New York Times bestsellers. He has served as a consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and to foreign countries including Portugal and the Philippines. His approach to economics is reaching a new generation of college students through his coauthored college textbooks on micro- and macroeconomics that are among the top-selling economics textbooks used in U.S. colleges.

Holly Fogle

Co-Founder & President of The Bridge Project

I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian foothills on the border of Ohio and West Virginia. My family founded the county in 1803 and remain there today. It is a place of deep poverty. As a child, I watched my parents help others: taking a tuna casserole with a Ritz Cracker crust to a sick friend, following an ambulance with other family members in tow, and volunteering their time at church.

At the age of 18, I wanted to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company (I have always been a dreamer!) so I went to the local library and looked up the best undergraduate business schools in the country. When I set foot on the campus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, I quickly realized that the world was a very big place and I knew very little!

I started my professional career at McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, and eventually became a Senior Partner, advising those very same CEOs I had dreamed of being. And I kept dreaming, but found my dreams began to change. I came to understand that I am meant to help the most vulnerable, not the most powerful. I want to be proximate to people and really listen to what they need (not what I think they need). So I left McKinsey after 13 years and found myself working to help immigrant mothers with babies living below the poverty line at Nido de Esperanza in New York City. Leading with my Appalachian heart and my McKinsey-trained brain, I dove in to understanding early childhood poverty—how to prevent, not just undo.

After these last five years of on-the-ground experiences at Nido, I continue to be most fulfilled by partnering with grassroots organizations that face insurmountable odds and persist with grit and determination. I am drawn to women leaders whose voices are not heard enough. I spend a lot of time trying to really “see” people… I am still a dreamer and love to hear mothers’ hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children.

Grounded in these values and principles, our foundation has launched The Bridge Project, a guaranteed income program in NYC for mothers of young children. We are putting cash directly in the hands of women with no strings attached. No patriarchy. No pretending that I know best. I trust these mothers to do what they need to do for themselves and their family—they have the answers within them. We have started with 100 mothers and will continue to expand it in the coming months.

My upbringing gave me so many examples of people showing up for other people and the power of community. Every day I have a choice as to how I spend my energy. Every day, I reflect on “Who am I showing up for in this world?” I lean into my discomfort, and try to act with humility, to listen, and to trust.

Women helping women in community feels like a great place to ground myself. This is why I am so excited to make my #GetEqual commitment to realizing a gender equal world.

Maria Hinojosa

Journalist and Author

Pulitzer Prize, Peabody and Emmy Award winning journalist. Founder of nonprofit multicultural communications project Futuro Media, and author of Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America.

Maria de Lourdes Hinojosa Ojeda is a Mexican-American journalist. She is the anchor and executive producer of Latino USA on National Public Radio, a public radio show devoted to Latino issues. She is also the founder, president and CEO of Futuro Media Group, which produces the show.[2] In 2022, Hinojosa won a Pulitzer Prize.[3]

Additionally, she serves as the executive producer of America By the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa: Clarkston Georgia which premiered on PBS as a Need to Know Election 2012 special on September 21, 2012.[4] In 2011, she became the first Latina to anchor a Frontline report on PBS (Lost in Detention, a documentary exploring the issue of deportation and immigrant detention and abuse).[5] Since 1995, she has been named three times as one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine for her work as a reporter for CBS, NPR, and CNN.[6]

H. Luke Shaefer

Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

H.Luke Shaefer, Ph.D.is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He is also a professor of social work and the inaugural director of Poverty Solutions, an interdisciplinary, presidential initiative that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty. Through his role at Poverty Solutions, Shaefer acts as a special counselor on anti-poverty policy to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.