Editor’s Note: Changing How We Talk About Entitlement Programs

This summarizes a special five article series on the intersection of child and family policy and entitlement programs. For the rest of the series, click here.

Ronald Reagan is often credited with being the first American president to extensively employ the term “entitlement program.” It is an intentionally broad turn of phrase, meant to cover a wide swath of social programming ranging from Medicaid to child nutrition programs to Social Security – the program that most dogged Reagan. Adoption of “entitlements” marked a shift away from “transfer programs,” the neutral, decades-old term used to describe programs born in the New Deal and Great Society, and ushered in a new era of partisan debate about what Americans should and should not be entitled to. The recent economic recession and concerns over the budget deficit have reinvigorated the debate, and entitlements have since taken center stage in national discussions about how to finance our future.

As is the case with many politically charged debates, the discussion around entitlement programs has manifested largely as a series of vague, incendiary sound bites (see Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent speech). Both political parties are guilty of promoting these quick attention-getters. Rarely, however, does a lawmaker champion a specific research finding relating to the actual impact of an entitlement program or the potential impact of cuts. This week’s series of entitlement oriented articles by the Chicago Policy Review’s Child and Family team works to address this need for a more evidence based approach to the debate.

The series seeks to bring needed attention to the growing body of academic research on entitlement programs. It is meant to present a snapshot of some of the issues surrounding the programs. The series does not cover all aspects of entitlements, nor does it address all viewpoints. We hope, however, that readers will use this work to help build an informed understanding of the issues.

This week’s articles have covered a variety of topics, including safety net programs’ failure to enroll those in need (Repka), food assistance’s link to childhood obesity (Geraghty), the factors that impact use of public health insurance (Shexnider), disincentives to complete child support payments for those on Medicaid (Edwards), and the impact of welfare reform (Healy).

Considered together, two key messages emerge: 1) that entitlement programs can and do work effectively to keep millions of Americans out of poverty, and 2) that there exist significant inefficiencies and areas for improvement within programs.

Researching articles, the Child and Family team was impressed by the large body of academic work available. The academic world, it’s clear, is devoted to providing quality material to help advise the national debate about entitlement programs. As the debate continues, it is important to incorporate their analyses into the dialogue so that thoughtful, informed adjustments are made to these programs on which so many rely.

Feature Photo: cc/(Bernat Casero)


Oona Bernhardt
Oona Bernhardt is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Policy Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in aging and end-of-life policy.

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