Some government tax policies can ease poverty while other programs can perpetuate it, expert says

12/18/2012 07:28 PM

For all of government’s best intentions to address poverty, it doesn’t always work out the way it’s drawn up.

Take, for instance, the Dec. 7 piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, who visited Jackson, Ky., to see whether the federal Supplemental Security Income could be prompting poor parents to keep their children out of school to maximize their benefits.

James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky and Carol Martin Gatton endowed chair in microeconomics, has studied poverty issues, including such SSI programs.

“The idea behind the program is that if there’s a disability that prevents you from engaging in some gainful activity at a normal level — and so for children it would be being able to succeed in school, so disabilities could be either physical or mental” then they receive the benefits, Ziliak said. (This part of the discussion begins 3:40 into the video). “There’s some concern there could be some opportunities … to limit the development of children. It’s a terrible thought that this could be happening in a proactive way,” he said. (4:50)

Ziliak also has researched ways government, through the tax code, can improve life for low-income Kentuckians. For instance, he wrote a column in the Lexington Herald-Leader last January suggesting the state lower income tax rates but broaden the tax base to more areas, such as untaxed services.

At the beginning of the interview, he explains why:

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or

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