The Changing Safety Net for Low Income Parents and Their Children : Structural or Cyclical Changes in Income Support Policy?
SNAP and the EITC/CTC are the largest income transfer programs available to able-bodied working poor and near-poor families, and joint participation over time in the programs has more than doubled in the past decade. These programs disproportionately benefit low income working families and individuals at risk of childbearing and of transfer-program participation. We examine whether this growth in longer-term program reliance is a result of the cyclical downturn from the Great Recession, from more secular changes in employment and wages for low-skilled families, from policy changes that affected program generosity and access, or from the changing structure of the American family. To do so, we construct a series of two-year panels from the 1981–2013 waves of the March Current Population Survey to estimate joint models of two-year participation in SNAP and the EITC/CTC by family socioeconomic status and structure. Our estimates suggest that joint use of SNAP and the EITC/CTC is countercyclical with respect to state unemployment rates, and thus some of the growth in recent years stems from higher unemployment. However, the secular decline in full-time work and concomitant rise in part-time work and out-of-the labor force status have had offsetting effects on joint participation in SNAP and the EITC/CTC, and as a result the growth in more “permanent” attachment to the programs jointly stems mainly from changing policy. Longer-term SNAP participation without the EITC, on the other hand, is driven primarily by structural and cyclical economic factors.