From the introduction:
American families are living through a new Gilded Age of increasingly high levels of income inequality, decades of wage stagnation, and widespread economic anxiety. In 2019, despite a decade of economic growth and historically low levels of unemployment, income inequality in the United States as measured by the Gini coefficient reached its highest level. In comparison to other democratic nations, the U.S. government has taken few direct steps to remedy this growing inequality, at least in part because of public opinion, which is a highly influential factor in determining the size and scope of the American welfare state. Despite evidence of growing public concern about inequality, public support for direct government solutions to income equality and declining economic opportunity has by some accounts dropped in recent years. However, while direct social welfare programs have not been drastically expanded, there has been growth in social tax expenditure programs that help citizens pay for expenses such as health insurance, the rising costs of college, and investments in retirement plans. The purpose of this book is to understand public opinion toward tax expenditure programs—the “other side” of the American social welfare state.
The United States provides economic security to citizens through a divided welfare state in which citizens receive benefits through both direct public programs and indirect tax subsidies.As an example, the United States offers people health care insurance not only through Medicare and Medicaid but also through subsidies for employer-provided health care insurance, which is used by the majority of working adults. The federal government assists workers in obtaining retirement security not just with Social Security but also through the various tax subsidies for 401(k) and IRA plans. And although the poor are aided through direct programs such as welfare and food stamps, the largest federal antipoverty program is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Studies of public opinion toward social policy have focused almost exclusively on direct spending programs such as Medicare and welfare. In this book, we set out to thoroughly examine how citizens form attitudes toward social tax expenditures and how the design of social tax expenditure programs structure opinions toward social spending.
Christopher Ellis is professor of political science at Bucknell University.
Christopher Faricy is associate professor of political science at Syracuse University.