In 10 years, we can cut U.S. child poverty in half. Here’s how.

Written by: Sarah Barnes
Date Posted: March 8, 2019

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a consensus study report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. The report comes out of a multi-year analysis of child poverty in the United States by a committee of experts, and includes recommendations to achieve the goal of reducing the number of U.S. children living in poverty by half in 10 years.

We know that when children are born into families experiencing poverty, it significantly impacts their healthy development. The stress caused by living in poverty can inhibit early brain development and negatively impact a child’s ability to succeed in school and develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed as adults. Poverty also impacts children’s health and their health outcomes well into adulthood. Through its analysis, the committee concluded that “poverty itself causes negative child outcomes, especially when poverty occurs in early childhood or persists throughout a large portion of childhood.”

The non-partisan, evidence-based analysis by the National Academies committee identified 10 policy and program options with the potential to meet the goal of reducing child poverty and deep poverty (families with incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level) by half in the next 10 years. Options include expanding work supports, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child care subsidies, and expanding income supports such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the housing choice voucher program.

The committee used the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to measure the impact of different policies and programs on child poverty. The SPM, developed by the Census Bureau with help from other government agencies, provides a more accurate picture of a family’s economic circumstances than the federal poverty level measure used by the U.S. government, because it takes into account common expenses such as health care costs, transportation expenses, and taxes, and also considers the impact of benefits such as the EITC and SNAP on a family’s income.

The committee determined that none of the 10 identified options alone would succeed in reducing both child poverty and deep poverty by half in 10 years, although it found that certain policy options, such as a $3,000 annual child allowance, and expanding the EITC, SNAP, and housing vouchers, would substantially reduce child poverty in the U.S.

As a result, the committee packaged together policies and programs that could work together to meet this goal. The committee concluded that sets of policies that provide both income and work supports to families would be the most effective at reducing child poverty in the U.S. For example, the committee found that combining expansions of the EITC and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit with expansions of SNAP and housing vouchers would result in a reduction of child poverty and deep poverty by 50.7 percent and 51.7 percent respectively in 10 years. It would also increase the number of low-income workers in the U.S. by 404,000 individuals.

Notably, the committee’s research found that mandatory work policies, which require individuals to work in order to be eligible for a public benefit, such as Medicaid coverage, are at least as likely to increase as to decrease child poverty in the U.S.

The federal investment required to implement such a package of policies is between $90 billion and $110 billion per year. Although this is a substantial investment, the committee also reviewed evidence in order to measure the cost of child poverty to the United States, and determined that child poverty costs an estimated $800 billion and $1.1 trillion per year.

The United States has made progress on the number of children living in poverty – our child poverty rate was cut nearly in half between 1967 and 2016, due to the establishment of policies and programs like the EITC, SNAP, and the Child Tax Credit.  Despite this progress, 18.4 percent of U.S. kids were living in poverty in 2017. In Colorado, 12 percent, or approximately 149,000 kids, experienced poverty in 2017.

From a comparative standpoint, the United States has the fourth-highest rate of child poverty among the 35 advanced economies, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We know what works to reduce child poverty, and we have the opportunity to build on the momentum created by existing policies and programs and work toward making the United States a country where every child is economically secure.

Sarah Barnes

About Sarah Barnes

Sarah serves as the Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign in September 2014, Sarah taught middle school English and worked as an Interventionist at Pioneer Charter School in Denver. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member. Prior to teaching, Sarah worked as an attorney in Denver in the areas of venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, general corporate and business law, and commercial transactions. Sarah earned a BA in English from Midland University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan.