June 30, 2010 | Working Papers

The Safety Net as a Network

Authors: Helen K. Liu

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The lack of a coherent understanding of what is meant by the American safety net made it difficult to have a meaningful discourse on the current condition. This paper proposes an alternative formulation of the social safety net based in network theory to overcome the shortcomings of the previous literature. The first part of the paper describes this approach, attempting to develop an alternative understanding of the safety net grounded in the actions of anti-poverty actors. Next is a list of propositions for measuring five dimensions of a safety net: the frame, structure, positions, influences, and the context. Three policy implications are derived from this new paradigm. First, shifting the level of analysis to network level allows policy makers to broaden the scope of the modern social safety net. Second, quantifying the interaction among actors reveals interdependency, which in turn redefines the power and influence of each actor within the network. Finally, the modern safety net could demonstrate a core-periphery structure. It calls for a new way of thinking about resource distribution and decision making channels of such unique structure.

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