Taxing issues of federal child care subsidies in postwar America, 1946--2006

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


child care, Tax expenditures, Welfare, Social policy, Federal subsidies, Policy

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Public Policy | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work | Women's Studies


In the United States, federal child care subsidies come in two forms. The first and most obvious is the direct program spending typically debated as part of the annual budget process. These subsidies have been limited to low-income families and funds generally are not sufficient to reach all who qualify. The second form of child care subsidy is through the tax code. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit is available to individual taxpayers, while the Dependent Care Assistance Plan must be mediated through an employer. The sliding-scale benefit rate of the credit seems to favor low-income families, but in practice is unable to reach many of those families because at the end of the year they do not owe taxes. The employer-administered tax benefit is available only to the twenty-five percent of workers whose companies have chosen to participate.

This dissertation traces the development of both types of subsidies in the years since World War II in an effort to understand the patchwork system that we find today. The research builds on recent cross-disciplinary work expanding our definition of the welfare state beyond the means-tested cash benefits given to the poor. Including the tax expenditures and employer-sponsored private benefits that are a part of the social safety net complicates our understanding of American exceptionalism. We may devote a similar proportion of our resources to welfare causes, but our system is less universal and redistributive in its outcomes.

The current project elucidates how institutional processes in Congress have contributed to that result. I do not find evidence of significant ideological preferences for providing tax incentives for child care rather than prescribed program funding and rules. Instead, the child care tax provisions have benefited from being embedded in tax reform and economic stimulus packages that tend to generate a great deal of attention and support, as opposed to the poverty bills to which direct program subsidies for child care have been attached. Ideology has been more prominent in terms of the proper roles described for mothers during debates over the place of government in subsidizing care for children.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.