Is America Finished with Major Expansions of the Safety Net?

That’s the message from Jim Kessler, endorsed here, here, and here. Kessler urges President Obama to say, in his State of the Union address, that “with the passage of health care reform, America’s 85-year quest to weave a strong safety net is now complete.”

We have a safety net, but I wouldn’t call it “strong” by 21st-century standards. Some elements that are inadequate or altogether absent:

The 2010 health care reform, even if fully implemented, likely will leave millions of Americans uninsured.

Early education (preschool, child care), beginning at age one, is a very good idea. Not all states have full-day kindergarten; few have preschool for four-year-olds; none have much in the way of public funding of education for kids age one to three.

Paid parental leave is available in only a few states and covers a relatively short period.

Sickness insurance: ditto.

Unemployment insurance covers too few of us.

Unemployment insurance should be supplemented by or folded into a new wage insurance program.

Social assistance benefits have been decreasing steadily over the past generation.

If markets are now structured in such a way as to severely limit real earnings growth for those in the bottom half of the distribution, we may need to massively expand the EITC.

We ought to do more for children, working-age adults, and elderly persons with assorted physical, cognitive, emotional, and social disabilities.

The aim is not, let me emphasize, to expand government for its own sake. Government should play an integral role in providing these supports and protections because they are underprovided by private markets, and because in some instances government can do so more efficiently than private actors.

About Lane Kenworthy 36 Articles

Affiliation: University of Arizona

Lane Kenworthy is a Professor of Sociology and Political Science University of Arizona.

He studies the causes and consequences of poverty, inequality, mobility, employment, economic growth, and social policy in the United States and other affluent countries.

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