US Catholic Faith in Real Life

OECD: Contain deficits, but do better by families

Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

You can read about the U.S. bishops' efforts to circle the wagons on the 20 percent of the U.S. budget devoted to social services, health care and poverty mitigation here. The bishops are properly worried that efforts to close deficits with abrupt austerity will overburden the already struggling poor. More evidence today from a venerable source that they are right to be concerned. As austerity efforts gather steam and deflating national poverty relief spending around the world, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) reports that within its member states of advanced western democracies working families are already struggling. In fact according to a new report, the share of children living in poor households now reaches 12.7 percent across the OECD. (The OECD defines poor as someone living in a household with less than half the median income, adjusted for family size.) "One in five children in Israel, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Poland live in poverty."

As politicians gear up to close the annual federal deficit next year, U.S. bishops worry they will be targeting programs that assist the poor while pursuing tax relief for the wealthy and continuing record defense spending. Proponents of further cutbacks of U.S. social services, which cannot be described as generous in comparison to other OECD states, frequently argue that government supported programs promote a creeping paternalism that damages poor families worse than the deprivations of poverty. The OECD analysis seems to anticipate that response: “Family benefits need to be well designed to maintain work incentives," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, "but they need to be effective in protecting the most vulnerable, otherwise we risk creating high, long-term social costs for future generations.”

As a broad principle, the church says societies will be judged by how well they care for the least within them and that truly just states maintain a preferential option for the poor. The OECD has a few, more specific recommendation for minimum expectations in an advanced economy like the United States: In "Doing Better for Families," it says governments should:

Ensure that work pays for both parents, including through assistance with childcare costs.

Help families combine work and care commitments, through an integrated set of leave, care and workplace support for parents of young children.

Design parental leave systems that encourage more fathers to take and share leave and promote their engagement with homecare responsibilities.

Start investing in family policies during the early years and sustain investment throughout childhood.

Ensure high-quality childcare services are linked to improved cognitive development, especially for children from poor households.