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Greg J. Duncan ’74 discusses child poverty at Grinnell’s latest scholar’s convocation

Greg J. Duncan ’74 speaks to a full auditorium at the latest Scholar’s Convocation. Photo by Alex Fontana.

Grinnell College alum Greg J. Duncan `70 returned to Grinnell on March 10 to present his research at a Scholar’s Convocation titled “America’s Long Struggle to Reduce Child Poverty.” Duncan’s talk was focused on ideas for reducing child poverty levels, as well as recent policy developments related to child poverty.

Duncan graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in Economics, and acquired his PhD in Economics from University of Michigan in 1974. The first 25 years of Duncan’s career were spent at the University of Michigan working for, and eventually directing, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID).

He has been a Distinguished Professor in the School of Education, Department of Economics, and Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine since 2008.

Duncan’s research is focused on the influence of family, peers, neighborhoods and public policy on children and adolescents. Specifically, his research is dedicated to finding out how economic deprivation affects early childhood and the potential benefits from increasing income for low-income families.

Duncan also served as a chair of a study published by the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years.” This study began in 2016 and made recommendations for federal investment aimed at reducing child poverty by 50 percent within 10 years. Of the ideas proposed in the study, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in ways that are going to reduce poverty rates while incentivizing work were included.

Duncan’s presentation included a recent example of his research being put into practice.

President Joe Biden signed Public Law No. 117-2, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, into effect on Mar. 11 2021 to help the country recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This stimulus bill included an improvement in the Child Tax Credit wherein the amount of money families could receive increased to $3,000 per child from 6-17 years of age, or $3,600 per child under the age of six. This credit was available for working families making up to $150,000 for a couple, or $112,500 for households with a single parent.

This same proposal was a part of Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.

Duncan said that his experiences in higher education, with the War on Poverty and graduate research, solidified the place of low-income issues on his agenda. 

“And then I’ve just maintained that for 50 years now,” said Duncan. “You know, what’s a better, more important topic to be worried about for 50 years?”

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