Action Needed to Stop US Child Poverty Rate From Rising Again, Experts Say | American News
The child poverty rate in the United States has improved dramatically due to the expansion of the social safety net during the Covid-19 pandemic, but experts warn that the expiry of these measures could reverse these historical gains .
As the pandemic has put pressure on the well-being of millions of children, new measures have dramatically improved children’s well-being. The child poverty rate has fallen from 14.2% in 2018 to less than 5.6% in 2021, and the extreme poverty rate has been reduced by almost half, according to projections.
“Child poverty in the United States is not inevitable. It’s a choice,” said Lisa Chamberlain, professor of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine and co-author of a perspective published Monday in the journal Jama Pediatrics. “It’s not a question of how to do this – it’s a question of political will.”
The Child Tax Credit, the main driver of these changes, has reduced child poverty by about 40%. Starting in July, it provided monthly checks to families. The vast majority of these funds paid for basic necessities, including food, clothing, housing, utilities and education.
Other extensions of the safety net in the pandemic include three stimulus checks, a moratorium on evictions, increased unemployment benefits and more funding for food, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap ) and housing.
“The expansion of all of these has really caused a historic decline in child poverty,” Chamberlain said.
Without this support, almost a third of children would live in poverty, according to research.
The benefits “have made a huge difference – not only preventing what could have been the worst-case scenario in terms of rising poverty, but actually leading to dramatically lower poverty rates than we’ve seen for decades. decades,” said policy director Megan Curran. at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy.
The child poverty rate in 2020 was the lowest since the US Census Bureau began measuring in the 1960s, and 2021 may have been even lower, she said. “So that’s huge.”
But the child tax credit expired in January, pushing around 3.7 million children into poverty – a 41% increase from December, according to the centre’s analysis.
“There was basically a cliff between December 2021 and January 2022,” Curran said. “Without the payments, families have certainly suffered over the past two months.”
Families are once again struggling to buy food, pay rent and keep lights on, especially as food and energy costs have risen. “It’s a double whammy they’re taking, which is the loss of payments and the increased prices of these essential commodities as well,” Curran said.
The Build Back Better bill would have extended the credit, but it stalled in the U.S. Senate after opposition from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who cited the child tax credit as one of the reasons he canceled the bill.
There is a huge economic benefit to reducing child poverty, research shows. Poverty can lead to hunger, poor health, poor education and poorer job prospects.
“Not having enough food, not having stable places to live – all of that disrupts their ability to really engage with school,” Chamberlain said. “The ability to engage in the classroom, to engage in their educational process, is what ultimately leads them to their ultimate potential of being able to have a good job and contribute.”
Child poverty costs the United States between $800 billion and $1.1 billion each year due to lost adult productivity and rising health care and criminal justice costs, according to the report. National Academy of Sciences. According to the researchers, poverty reduction programs have strong moral and economic justifications.
“Child poverty actually costs us as a country an incredible amount of money every year,” Curran said. “Dramatically reducing child poverty not only helps children on a personal and family level, it also makes sense economically.”
Some opponents argued that the credit could discourage families from working, but research shows there was no noticeable effect on employment.
In fact, according to the researchers, the money could be used for childcare, allowing parents to work more – especially during the pandemic, when many informal caregivers, such as grandparents, have been lost. due to death and disability.
“The Covid disability numbers for this have been really, really tough – and we’ve seen huge numbers of women leaving the workforce,” Chamberlain said.
With the expiry of the child tax credit, this progress is now in jeopardy.
“I wouldn’t say it negates the gains,” Chamberlain said. “It eliminates our ability to continue to get those gains.”
During the months families received the credit, they had more food, stable housing, less stress — and greater developmental benefits for children.
“If they can keep expanding that, we can keep seeing that happen.”
The program’s immediate success is proof of concept, particularly because it’s unusual for a single policy to show such clear cut gains, Curran said.
“We’ve shown now that all of this – high poverty, rising poverty – is completely reversible,” she said. “We now know what works, and we’ve seen it work.”