United States

   

Social Policies

#29
Key Findings
With significant weaknesses, the United States falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

Educational inequalities between high- and low-income areas are severe, with performance generally disappointing. Federal education programs have been cut by more than $10 billion, with some funding redirected to school-choice initiatives. Income inequality has increased dramatically. Programs for the poor have been cut, and child poverty is a serious problem, with 1.3 million children homeless.

Republican attacks on Obama-era health reforms have hampered the stabilization of health insurance markets. Despite tax benefits for families with children, direct family policy is minimal. The employment rate for women is high. Ideological stalemate has prevented pension-system sustainability reforms.

The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to cut legal and illegal immigration, with Trump showing active rhetorical hostility toward immigrants. The separation of migrant children from parents has produced a human-rights scandal. Large-city homicide rates and large-scale gun violence are serious problems, with Congress failing to pass legislation tightening weapons regulations.

Education

#19

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
6
The performance of primary and secondary education in the United States has long been disappointing. Historically low high school graduation rates significantly improved over the last two decades, reaching a record high of 82% in 2016 – still a low level for a wealthy country. The education system largely lacks vocational alternatives to high school education. High school students’ performance in science, math and reading remains below most wealthy OECD countries. Yet the educational system is generously funded. Its shortcomings are the result of several factors, including the impact of deficiencies in the home environments of many children in low-income/minority neighborhoods, severe inequalities in school quality between wealthy and low-income areas, a lack of accountability for outcomes in the fragmented system, and effective resistance to school reforms by powerful teachers’ unions.

Whereas Federal engagement became more extensive and ambitious during the Obama administration, the Trump administration cut federal education programs by more than $10 billion. Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the administration has redirected funding to support school-choice initiatives, which seek to improve education by enhancing accountability to parents while reducing the power of teachers’ unions and state-level education bureaucracies – a conservative strategy that has significant support in research findings.

As college and university costs have increased, financial aid for low-income students has failed to keep up. As a result, students from the top income quintile are now at least three times as likely to graduate as those from the lowest quintile. Trump has cut budgets for college loan programs and has relaxed accreditation requirements for the often-predatory for-profit higher education sector.

Citations:
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/charter-schools-losing-the-narrative-but-winning-the-data.html

Social Inclusion

#33

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
5
The United States has long had high levels of economic inequality, and these levels have been increasing. In recent years, there has been persistent poverty along with exceptionally large income gains for the top 1% and especially the top 0.1% of the income scale. The United States ranks in the top five among the 41 OECD countries with regard to the proportion of the population (17.3%) that receives less than 50% of the median income.

A number of Obama-administration initiatives benefited low-income families, including the extension of health coverage to a larger share of the low-income population. However, deficit politics and Republican resistance to social spending led to cuts in the food-stamp program. About two-dozen Republican-led states declined to expand Medicaid health care for the poor. The number of children living in poverty rose, with 1.3 million children homeless.

President Trump and the Republican Congress have made major cuts in programs for the poor–including health care, food stamps, student loans and disability payments. They have sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from receiving the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit. They have sought to eliminate the expanded low-income health coverage under Obamacare.

Health

#32

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
5
For many years, the U.S. health care system has provided the best care in the world, though highly inefficiently, to the majority of residents – those with health insurance coverage. It has provided significantly inferior care to the large segment without coverage (especially people of relatively low income, ineligible under the means-tested Medicaid program). In 2010, Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, often called “Obamacare”), mainly to extend health care coverage to more people. The design of the ACA was essentially to fill gaps in the patchwork of financing arrangements in the existing health care system.

Health care reform has been highly controversial and partisan, both before and after its enactment. Republicans consistently vowed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare from 2010 to 2016, while offering no specific plans for its replacement. Some state governments headed by Republican governors declined to provide the expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income families, even though the federal government would pay 90% of the cost. The Supreme Court narrowly upheld the ACA against two potentially catastrophic challenges. Despite early problems in implementation, the program was proving successful by 2016.

In 2017, the Trump administration and Republican majorities in the House and Senate tried to make good on their effort to overturn the ACA but could not achieve sufficient agreement within their own party to enact a replacement. However, their tax bill effectively abolished the individual mandate (a requirement for otherwise uncovered individuals to purchase health insurance), which is central to making the ACA financially viable. In addition, Republican officials in 19 states filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the ACA (notwithstanding the prior Supreme Court ruling), and the Trump administration authorized “short-term” insurance plans that included sharply reduced coverage.

Republican activity in this regard has destabilized health insurance markets and will slow the expansion of coverage under the ACA. Because Democrats succeeded in using the health care issue against the Republicans in the 2018 congressional election campaign and have gained majority control of the House of Representatives, Republican efforts to overturn the ACA may now subside.

Citations:
Kaiser Family Foundation, The Affordable Care Act’s Little-noticed Success: Cutting the Uninsured Rate, 2016, http://kff.org/uninsured/perspective/the-affordable-care-acts-little-noticed-success-cutting-the-uninsured-rate/

Families

#25

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
7
The United States ranks near the bottom of the developed world on many measures of direct governmental and regulatory support for working mothers. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires employers with at least 50 workers to allow 12 weeks of unpaid leave for child care. This measure has not proven highly effective, partly because of narrow eligibility criteria.

Nevertheless, the United States provides significant support for families with children, largely through tax benefits. The policies have the greatest effect for poor families, especially single mothers, partly because of low governmental tolerance for welfare dependency. The Obama administration increased support provided through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a block grant going to state governments, by $2 billion. As of 2011, tax benefits for families with children included a dependent-related exemption, a child tax credit, an earned-income tax credit and a child- and dependent-care tax credit, as well as two tuition-related tax benefits for post-secondary education. As a result, effective child care costs as a percentage of income were lower in the United States than in most OECD countries, and for low-income single mothers, much lower.

The Trump administration has discussed enhanced family leave programs, but its main actions affecting low-income families have been to strengthen work requirements in cash assistance, food stamps and low-income health care programs.

Pensions

#22

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
7
The Social Security retirement program is the main public pension system, complementing various employer-based pension plans, tax-subsidized retirement saving plans (401k plans) and private retirement accounts. Social Security is funded by mandatory employee and employer contributions, totaling 12.4% of wages, on wages up to approximately $120,000 per year. The wage replacement rate of the public system is on average 45%, below the OECD average, though with higher rates for people with lower incomes. Benefits from company-based and private accounts raise the wage-replacement rate to 80%. However, 78 million Americans have no access to company-based retirement plans. In addition, the financial crisis hit the asset base of pension funds, resulting in current or expected future failures to make full payments by many private employers. A long-term Social Security funding shortfall has been politically intractable, with Democrats blocking benefit cuts (or reductions of scheduled benefit increases) and Republicans blocking increases in the payroll tax.


With respect to the three goals of pension systems, the U.S. pension system is partially successful in reducing poverty among the elderly. (The poverty rate among the elderly is high by OECD standards, but lower than the general U.S. poverty rate.) The system is hard to assess with respect to intergenerational equity. Historically, each succeeding retirement cohort has received generous subsidies from current workers, but the growth of the elderly population threatens coming retirement cohorts with potential losses of expected benefits. The system is currently at risk with respect to financial sustainability.

President Trump and the Republican Congress have not been willing to raise taxes or cut benefits in order to address the long-term funding deficiencies of the Social Security Program, which are becoming more difficult to deal with – requiring larger, more painful adjustments with every year in which the government fails to act.

Integration

#20

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
5
Prior to the Trump presidency, on the basis of data provided by the Migrant Integration Policy Index, the United States was ranked ninth out of 31 analyzed countries with regard to overall integration policy, but first with respect to anti-discrimination laws and protection. The United States also ranked high on the access-to-citizenship scale, because it encourages immigrants to become citizens. Legal immigrants enjoy good (but often low-paid) employment opportunities and educational opportunities. However, the United States does less well with regard to family reunification. Many legal permanent residents cannot obtain visas for other family members.

A large fraction of the immigration to the United States has consisted of illegal immigrants, most of whom have crossed the border from Mexico and often have lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States for their entire adult lives without ever becoming legal residents. These illegal immigrants account for nearly one-third of the immigrant population, numbering 12 million to 15 million individuals or 3% to 4% of the country’s overall population. They have in effect been tolerated (or even virtually invited by the ease of illegal entry) for their economic contributions, often as agricultural workers or in low-paying service occupations. Children of illegal immigrants attend public schools and businesses that employ illegal immigrants have not been subject to effective sanctions. There have been bipartisan efforts to enact major immigration reforms, involving proposals that have combined more effective control of illegal entry with the legalization of many prior illegal entrants for several decades; but such efforts have not succeeded.

Events from 2016 to 2018 profoundly increased the insecurities faced by large numbers of immigrants. President Trump’s successful election campaign was based in large part on his opposition to immigration, especially from Mexico, the Middle East or other Muslim countries. Throughout 2017 and 2018, Trump has carried out a wide-ranging, aggressive attack on immigration – targeting illegal immigration in particular. Though his actions have often been overturned in federal courts, Trump has sought to ban the otherwise legal entry of individuals from eight mostly Muslim-majority countries and to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (which protects adults who were brought into the country illegally as children from deportation). In addition, he has declared his intention to abolish birthright citizenship (despite his lack of constitutional power to do so). Trump has insisted on his demands to build a wall on the Mexican border. In what has been an international human-rights scandal, his administration has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents who have entered the country, most often legally, in search of asylum. Trump has also threatened to withdraw permanent resident status from immigrants who draw on public assistance. So far, most of these reform proposals have been blocked by local courts and/or have not been implemented.

Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and his draconian – often unconstitutional – immigration measures have been popular with his base, which make up roughly 40% of those Americans who approve of his performance, but have been opposed by most Americans. His rhetoric and actions in this regard appear to have contributed to Republican losses in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. Nevertheless, the president’s hostility toward immigration will undoubtedly affect educational and job opportunities and other support for the integration of legal immigrants. Muslim, Latino and other immigrant communities have experienced a massive increase in uncertainty about their status and acceptance.

Citations:
Migration Policy Institute (December 2017), Immigration under Trump: A Review of Policy Shifts in the Year Since the Election, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigration-under-trump-review-policy-shifts (accessed December 2017)

Safe Living

#39

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Internal Security Policy
4
The United States invests massively in efforts to protect citizens against security risks such as crime and terrorism. In the years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States built an extraordinarily large security establishment centered in the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Since 9/11, the United States has been subject to only smaller-scale attacks from homegrown terrorists.

The government has had less success dealing with two other kinds of violence. First, a number of large cities are plagued by homicides, primarily in inner city black and Latino neighborhoods. New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and Chicago all number among the world’s 50 cities with the highest homicide rates. Second, there are repeated instances of individuals conducting large-scale violent attacks on civilians in public spaces, killing large numbers of people, often using semi-automatic weapons with large ammunition clips. Under pressure from the National Rifle Association and its mass membership,
Congress has failed to pass legislation tightening weapon regulations. In 2018, a massive national protest – led by students from a Florida high school that had suffered an attack – increased the pressure on lawmakers to introduce tighter restrictions on the sale and acquisition of guns and other weapons.
In addition, the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb drew attention to a possibly growing phenomenon of excessive police violence, especially against African Americans. The Black Lives Matter protest movement gained momentum during 2015 and has since remained active, highlighting the insecurity of racial minorities vulnerable to harassment or violence by local police departments. Evidence suggests that, in the event of an encounter, police are in fact no more likely to use lethal force against a black criminal suspect than against a white one. In addition, law-enforcement sources have suggested that the additional scrutiny of police practices has inhibited police effectiveness and led to increases in crime in certain areas. In terms of actual casualties and loss of life, the frequency of mostly black-on-black inner-city violence is by far the greatest failure to provide safe living conditions.

Global Inequalities

#23

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
6
Although the United States’ efforts have lagged behind those of other OECD countries, relative to the size of their economies, it provides a large share of the world’s development assistance. For most of the postwar era, U.S. foreign aid has had four features that have reduced its impact on economic development and welfare in poor countries: It has been modest in amount relative to national income; it has been heavily skewed toward military assistance; it has not always been coordinated with assistance from international organizations; and – at least with regard to food assistance – it has often been designed to benefit U.S. agricultural, shipping and commercial interests along with aid recipients.

Reversing this direction with his “America first” agenda, Trump has cut foreign aid budgets with plans to seek reductions of up to 37% and even abolish the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). To support Israel, he has barred aid to Palestine. In deference to anti-abortion demands, he has barred international organizations that either promote or perform abortions from involvement in distributing economic aid. At the end of 2018, the Trump Administration changed its course again. With the Build Act and other activities, the administration looked again to foreign aid policy as an instrument of soft power.
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