Some kids are worth less: the neoliberal politics of indirect social spending
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The child tax credit (CTC) is the largest anti-child poverty policy in the United States, but it gives more benefits to upper-income households than it does to lower-income households. Meanwhile, traditional cash benefit welfare programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) have shrunk over the past two decades. Why have American policymakers approached child poverty with indirect rather than direct spending solutions? This thesis argues that neoliberalism, defined as the reliance of policymakers on market means to achieve public goals, is to blame. Historical case comparisons between TANF and the CTC demonstrate that policymakers utilize neoliberal code words implicitly to divide target populations into deserving and undeserving groups. Additionally, an original survey experiment finds that political actors can increase public support for regressive economic agendas by incorporating indirect social spending into their legislation. Ultimately, neoliberal values challenge our conception of what constitutes good politics and good policy. It is clear that direct spending solutions to child poverty are present and available, but their attainability is falsely shrouded in clouds of skepticism from the neoliberal mindset.