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Spotlight on Direct Cash Benefits during the Pandemic

October 4, 2021

As the country looks to emerge from the pandemic during a destabilized labor market, a debate has arisen over whether direct cash payments discourage people from working. This debate echoes long-standing ideological disputes over the social safety net, including the effectiveness and appropriateness of direct cash benefits, and whether people will spend them wisely. The existing quantitative data demonstrates that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including its direct cash benefit provisions, helped many people avert material hardship, while for those who were ineligible, its absence exacerbated hardship.Previous Poverty Tracker reports have shown that nearly half (49%) of all New York City workers lost employment income at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And those hardest-hit were those already in precarious financial positions, with more than half (57%) of low-wage workers in New York City losing employment income. Across the city, New Yorkers were forced to figure out how to pay rent and keep food on the table with no sense of what was to come next. To make ends meet, 52% of New Yorkers who lost employment income drew down from their savings accounts, 41% started using their credit cards more frequently, and 29% delayed payments on credit cards and other loans. But the data also show that it could have been much worse absent policy interventions, such as the stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) that so many New Yorkers describe as a lifeline in the qualitative interviews discussed in the pages that follow.In this report, we draw on qualitative data from the Poverty Tracker to better understand how these benefits impacted peoples' lives and the choices they made. We conducted a rolling set of interviews with 38 adults in New York City from July 2020 through May 2021. With some exceptions, we interviewed people twice at roughly six-month intervals. Our research design therefore allows us to track people's experiences with successive waves of stimulus payments and UIB, their spending of these benefits, and their efforts to return to work (or not) over time. We first describe how people budgeted and apportioned these benefits. We next examine whether and how direct cash benefits affected decision-making about employment.

Early Childhood Poverty Tracker: Child Care, Affordability, Accessibility and the Costs of Disruptions

July 29, 2021

This report leverages data from the Early Childhood Poverty Tracker (see text box for a more detailed description), a Columbia University and Robin Hood study of more than 1,500 parents of young children in New York City, to provide a window into how families – especially low-income parents – managed their child care needs before the onset of the pandemic and what happens when families experience disruptions in their child care.PART I of this report focuses on accessibility and affordability of child care in New York City before the pandemic, specifically discussing what types of child care families used, including center-based, home-based, and informal care, and how they afforded that care.PART II explores both the extent and the economic cost of child care disruptions for New Yorkers, including an analysis of disruptions during the pandemic. To analyze the costs and impacts of disruptions, both to families and to the economy overall, the report replicates similar studies conducted in Maryland and Louisiana, which found that both states lost over $1 billion in a given year from parental absence and turnover due to child care disruptions. While the data we use for this analysis were collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can only expect that the impacts documented here were exacerbated due to the disruptions of daily life brought about by COVID-19.Together, these findings highlight the difficult trade-offs between access, quality, and affordability for families of young children, as well as the economic implications of disruptions to child care. This report can inform policymakers and practitioners as they lay the groundwork for reopening the city's centers and reimagine a better, more inclusive, and more accessible system. 

Data Snapshot: Poorer Working Families With Young Children Are Unlikely to Afford Child Care

December 15, 2017

Low-income families with working parents face significant burdens paying for child care, which can function as a barrier to work and often means parents must rely on child care arrangements that are less formal and less stable. Amid national concerns about the high cost of child care, it is important to keep this issue at the forefront. Given the especially high costs of care for very young children, this snapshot highlights the child care costs faced by families with a child under age 3. Figure 1 shows the share of families paying for child care (bottom sections) by their income level. As a family's income-to-poverty ratio rises, they are more likely to pay for child care. Poorer families who do pay for child care are much more often paying over 7 percent of their income on child care, the current benchmark of affordability from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.