Government Structure, Economic Inequality, and Social Safety Net Provision in US Counties
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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This study examines the relationship between economic inequality and social safety net spending at the county level between 1996 and 2010. Three key questions are explored. What effect does the interaction between economic inequality and government structures have on the way county governments structure social safety net programs? What effect does the interaction between economic inequality and county government structures have on the content of social safety net programs? What effect does the interaction between economic inequality and county government structures have on the way governments fund social safety net programs? To answer these questions, this study analyzes two social welfare programs, LIHEAP and Head Start. Three key features of these programs are evaluated—program content, program funding, and program structure. Using secondary county-level data for 243 counties and qualitative data for nine counties, this study employs a mixed methods approach. The quantitative analysis employs time-series cross-sectional analysis. The qualitative analysis combines content analysis with in-depth interviews conducted with county-level program administrators who represent specific categories of county governance arrangements. The quantitative analysis reveals that county government structures that are considered professional tend to increase funding for social safety net programs and also eliminate or reduce program access restrictions. The qualitative analysis suggests that the location of social service providers has significant impact on program participation rates and transportation is the most common barrier for participation. These findings imply that professionalism improves social safety net design and implementation. These findings also suggest that disinvestments in public transportation negatively impact the safety net.