The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the primary income support program for low-income workers in the U.S., but its design may hinder its effectiveness when poor health limits, but does not preclude, work.
Cross-sectional analysis of nationally-representative U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) data covering 2019. Working-age adults eligible to receive federal EITC were included in this study. Poor health, as indicated by self-report of at least one problem with hearing, vision, cognitive function, mobility, dressing and bathing, or independence, was the exposure. The main outcome was federal EITC benefit category, categorized as no benefit, phase-in (income too low for the maximum benefit), plateau (maximum benefit), phase-out (income above threshold for maximum benefit), or earnings too high to receive any benefit. We estimated EITC benefit category probabilities by health status using multinomial logistic regression. We further examined whether other government benefits provided additional income support to those in poor health.
41,659 participants (representing 87.1 million individuals) were included. 2,724 participants (representing 5.6 million individuals) reported poor health. In analyses standardized over age, gender, race, and ethnicity, those in poor health, compared with those not in poor health, were more likely to be in the no benefit (2.40% vs. 0.30%, risk difference 2.10 percentage points [95%CI 1.75 to 2.46 percentage points]), and phase-in (9.28% vs. 2.74%, risk difference 6.54 percentage points [95%CI 5.82 to 7.26 percentage points]) categories. Differences in resources by health status persisted even after accounting for other government benefits.
EITC program design creates an important gap in income support for those for whom poor health limits work, which is not closed by other programs. Filling this gap is an important public health goal.