Opinion The stunning drop in child poverty is a huge story

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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“My friends, some years ago, the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won,” Ronald Reagan declared in his State of the Union address in 1988. He lamented that “government created a poverty trap” that discouraged people from lifting themselves up.

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Then as now, it was an idea driven by an ideology that says the government should do as little as possible to help people who are struggling. Then as now, it was refuted by facts.

As a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, we did something extraordinary during the worst parts of the coronavirus pandemic: In the midst of a crisis that affected every part of our society and could have been economically calamitous, we drove poverty down. As economically painful as the crisis was, the aggressive public spending passed across the Trump and Biden presidencies dramatically mitigated the hardship Americans suffered.






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Using just-released census figures, the group reports the results of the pandemic stimulus measures in 2021. In particular, the study looked at the expansion of the child tax credit, which was altered to give monthly payments to eligible families, including those with incomes too low to have income tax liability:
The expanded Child Tax Credit alone kept 5.3 million people above the annual poverty line and helped drive a stunning reduction in child poverty to a record low. Poverty overall also reached a record low and the uninsured rate dropped substantially, with Medicaid and Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace coverage reaching or nearing record highs.
The effect on minority groups was particularly dramatic: “In 2018 nearly 1 in 4 Black children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. In 2021, fewer than 1 in 10 did.”
It’s important to remember that we define “poverty” as a line one can be over or under. The fact that a family has a bit more income than where that line is placed doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to make ends meet.

But government assistance can mean the difference between a family having enough to eat, being able to pay the rent and utilities, or becoming homeless. And it’s clear that antipoverty spending has had a tremendous impact.






This week the New York Times reported comprehensive data showing that over the past three decades, child poverty has declined dramatically, down from 28 percent of American children in 1993 to 11 percent in 2019. Much of the credit goes to the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, which give significant benefits to low-income Americans.
Now, here’s the bad news: Sadly, the expanded CTC expired at the end of 2021. Almost all Democrats in Congress wanted to extend the expansion, but Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) refused; he reportedly told colleagues he worried that parents would use the money to buy drugs. Without that extra income, millions of children fell back into poverty in 2022.

That only reinforces what a success story pandemic relief was — even if some of its effects were temporary.






These data are also important for another reason. They undercut conservative arguments that such government help must be accompanied with work requirements, lest it incentivize recipients to slip into a “hammock” of “dependency,” as one wretched formulation of the idea has it.
Arloc Sherman, the vice president for data analysis and research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that this dramatic drop in child poverty was achieved without work requirements while also being accompanied by widespread voluntary return to work by parents.

“There was a huge decline in child poverty and a very large increase in parents working year round without any work requirements,” Sherman told us. “We did not need to require the parents to work.”
In practice, work requirements often wind up being little more than a weaponization of bureaucracy against poor people, forcing them to spend enormous amounts of time and energy satisfying paperwork requirements, with the threat of their benefits being withdrawn if they make a mistake.






Ultimately, however, the most important lesson might be this: We can choose to make our economic arrangements fairer. We can make collective decisions that children shouldn’t be disadvantaged at a very young age through no fault of their own.

Making the choice to alleviate poverty early in people’s lives, many economists agree, puts children on a path to becoming healthier, happier, more fulfilled, more productive adults. We have perpetually failed to make that choice, but this time, we did make it, and it worked.
“We decided that we could actually try things,” Sherman told us.
Unfortunately, thanks largely to a certain senator from West Virginia, Democratic majorities in Congress were unable to continue the expanded CTC. But the drop in child poverty is a very big story, and if Democrats can somehow hold those majorities, its legacy should ensure that we don’t make that absurd and unnecessary mistake again.

 

Hoosierhawkeye

HR Legend
Sep 16, 2008
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The failure to extend the child tax credits is probably the most disappointing thing from this congress.

That tax credit did a lot of good for a lot of people. And it's needed in a society where people of reproductive age are famously far poorer than previous generations where at the same age and where birthrates are plumeting.

Too bad we don't have an actual pro-family conservative party.
 
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