Christopher Howard

Pamela C. Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy, College of William and Mary
Chapter Member: Virginia SSN

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About Christopher

Howard's research focuses on the history and politics of U.S. social policy. He has written about an unusually wide range of programs, from Social Security and workers’ compensation to Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Overarching themes in his work include the public-private mix in social policy; the intersection of social policy and tax policy; political support for inclusive versus targeted programs; and the extent to which public policies reinforce or reduce inequalities. Howard is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and a local advisory board for social services. 

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In the News

Opinion: "The Overlooked Problem With Raising the Retirement Age for Social Security," Christopher Howard, CNN, April 12, 2023.
Opinion: "Democrats Aren’t Saying Much About Reducing Poverty and Unemployment. Why?," Christopher Howard, The Washington Post, October 27, 2022.
Interviewed in "Why Charity Will Never Be Enough To Address Poverty," NPR Radio Station (KERA) Dallas, October 24, 2022.
Opinion: "Reducing Child Poverty Shows Promising Trends," Christopher Howard, The Virginian-Pilot, September 27, 2022.
Opinion: "Tax Day Is Misleading," Christopher Howard, Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 14, 2022.
Opinion: "Build Back Better: The Challenge of Selling a Hybrid on Capitol Hill," Christopher Howard, The Hill, January 26, 2022.
Opinion: "Build Back Better Helps Affordable Housing," Christopher Howard, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 11, 2021.
Interviewed in "Can Washington Break Its Tax-Break Habit?," All Things Considered, NPR, January 13, 2011.
Opinion: "Deficit-Attention Disorder," Christopher Howard (with Richard Valelly), The American Prospect, November 1, 2010.
Interviewed in Government Out of Sight With Good Reason, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, January 16, 2010.


"Who Cares: The Social Safety Net in America" (Oxford University Press, 2023).

Provides the first comprehensive map of the social safety net, public and private, in the United States.

"Thinking Like a Political Scientist: A Practical Guide to Research Methods" (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Offers a fresh approach to research methods, aimed primarily at undergraduates.  Presents a balanced amount of experiments, statistical analysis, and case studies. Discusses asking good questions in the first half and providing good answers in the second half of the book. 

The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Social Policy (edited with Daniel Beland and Kimberly J. Morgan) (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Summarizes much of what we know about the politics of U.S. social policy with contributions from leading political scientists, sociologists, historians, and economists.  Identifies promising paths for future research.  

" Means-Testing of Entitlements: Good Policy? Good Politics?" in The New Politics of Old Age Policy, 3rd Edition, edited by Robert B. Hudson (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 236-253.

Analyzes the different meanings of “means-testing” among policy elites, some connected to eligibility and benefits and others connected to financing.

"Taxation and the Elderly" in The New Politics of Old Age Policy, 2nd ed., edited by Robert B. Hudson (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 337-355.
Although many people are familiar with Social Security and Medicare, few understand how the tax code affects the elderly. This chapter analyzes the impact of different taxes and tax expenditures on senior citizens.
"Extensive but Not Inclusive: Health Care and Pensions in the United States" (with Edward D. Berkowitz), in Public and Private Social Policy: Health and Pension Policies in a New Era, edited by Daniel Béland and Brian Gran (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 70-91.
Serves as a primer on the public-private mix in health care and retirement pensions. Demonstrates that the line separating public and private is often fuzzy, and that individuals with below-average incomes depend heavily on public programs while more affluent citizens receive most of the “private” benefits from employment.
"The Welfare State Nobody Knows: Debunking Myths about U.S. Social Policy" (Princeton University Press, 2007).
Shows that the American welfare state is larger, more popular, and more dynamic than commonly believed. Nevertheless, poverty and inequality remain high, and this book helps explain why so much effort accomplishes so little.
"The Hidden Welfare State: Tax Expenditures and Social Policy in the United States " (Princeton University Press, 1997).
Despite costing hundreds of billions of dollars and subsidizing everything from homeownership to child care to health insurance, tax expenditures have received little attention from those who study American government. Based on the histories of four tax expenditures, this book shows how and why policy makers turn to the tax code to make social policy.