Census says: Tax credits, SNAP and other benefit programs work. So let’s make them stronger.
We Know We Can Cut Child Poverty in Half, So Why Aren’t We?
The U.S. Census Bureau released annual data on child poverty in the United States on September 10 that shows benefit programs are particularly effective at reducing poverty for children.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculates the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) as an alternate measure to the Official Poverty Measure. Unlike the Official Poverty Measure, which uses an income threshold solely based on the cost of food, the SPM incorporates the cost of food, clothing, shelter and utilities. It also adjusts for family size and geographic differences in housing costs. The SPM further considers cash income (including child support) and non-cash benefits, subtracts taxes (or adds tax credits), work expenses, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and child support paid to another household.
When taking all of these factors into account, the SPM rate for children in 2018 was 14.5 percent, compared to 16.2 percent when using the Official Poverty Measure. The nearly two-point drop in poverty illustrates that benefit programs are particularly effective for children and must not only be protected, but strengthened so they can reach many more children still living in poverty.
Poverty & Young Children: A Look at the State of America’s Babies
Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual national data on poverty in America and it paints the picture that we know all too well: Our child poverty rate remains stubbornly high despite the fact that we have the solutions to address it.
According to the Census Bureau’s Official Poverty Measure (OPM), 16.2 percent of children (11.9 million) were living in poverty in 2018. (The official poverty line for a family of four with two children is $25,465 a year.)
The new figure represents a 1.2 percent decrease from 2017. While we are encouraged to see this small decrease in the child poverty rate, we know that children still have a 54.4 percent higher chance of living in poverty than adults and that the United States continues to have a significantly higher rate of child poverty than most of our peer countries.
Going Global: International Inspiration to Tackle US Child Poverty
As we celebrate Children’s Week, we must keep in mind that far too many young children, particularly infants and toddlers, are poor in America. Our nation’s babies are disproportionately represented in low-income and poor families, with as many as 23 percent living in poverty.
Addressing Diaper Need and Lifting Children out of Poverty
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics (NASEM) in Washington, DC recently released A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, declared the most important report on child poverty in years. The research should be widely-covered for its most telling revelations about child poverty in America in 2019: that an unrestricted free-market economy characterized by low-wage employment, combined with work requirements and sanctions, were not effective over time at reducing the percentage of American children living below the poverty line.
If you want to help kids, don’t impose work tests on programs that meet their basic needs.
Known as “diaper need,” this challenge of getting enough diapers is an often-hidden consequence of poverty and low wages. Infants and toddlers require eight to 12 diapers each day during their first few years. Procuring a sufficient supply of diapers costs families between $70 and $80 each month. While not as well known as food insecurity or homelessness, diaper need negatively impacts children’s health, parents’ mental well-being and families’ economic stability.
Counting All Children in the 2020 Census Would Benefit Poor Children: State and Local Advocates Can Help
Work requirements, in other words, pose enormous hurdles to getting assistance in the first place, as well as challenges for maintaining assistance once it has begun. For parents of young children, the challenges are especially large, and the risks of failure are high. Given these factors, it should be no surprise that a landmark National Academy of Sciences report on child poverty recently concluded that “work requirements are at least as likely to increase as to decrease [child] poverty.”
We have the data to end child poverty. Now we need action.
Being counted in the Decennial Census helps young children thrive. When they are counted, their communities get their fair share of over 800 billion dollars a year in federal funding that is allocated by formula using data derived from the federal Census.
New Year, New Opportunity to Reduce Child Poverty
One thing I have learned while working in policy advocacy is that strong data alone is not enough to make lawmakers act—they need to be held accountable.
This why I am grateful for the partnership of Save the Children Action Network and more than 20 other organizations in launching End Child Poverty U.S., a national campaign to build the public and political will to making child poverty a national priority.
Child Poverty Should Be a National Outrage
Making a resolution to end child poverty in the United States checks all these boxes. Ending child poverty would save our economy trillions of dollars each year, result in healthier children, and is the right thing to do for millions of our nation’s children and families.
Whether you have children or not, it’s easy to get caught up in back-to-school season at this time of year. We all feel a sense of purpose as children return to the classroom, confident that we are preparing them to be intelligent, thinking members of society, ready to find work when they graduate with a diploma or degree.
Our commitment to our children’s minds is in the right place, but our leaders are failing their bodies and even those very brains, too. When we don’t give children a healthy start in life — even from the womb — and sustain them through their physical and intellectual growing years, we might not see the effects right away, but we will surely pay for it more later.