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America’s Report Card 2012 Series: Economic Security

Nutrition
Poverty & Family Economics
Tax Policy

America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S., a report by First Focus and Save the Children, assesses the economic security of children in the United States. The level of economic security of America’s children is based on factors such as the number of children living in poverty, in low-income families, with unemployed parents, in food insecurity, and in unstable housing situations. First Focus and Save the Children gave America a failing grade of D when it comes to the economic security of U.S. children. This grade mostly results from the extraordinary number of children living in poverty in the U.S. today. According to U.S. Census data, roughly 22 percent of the children in the United States live in poverty. In a nation long-associated with opportunity, this statistic should draw concern.

A family living in poverty is defined as a family of four whose annual household income is less than $22,050. Therefore, more than one in five children in America are part of families in this precarious economic condition. Sadly, this figure does not even capture the full expanse of the problem: roughly 44 percent of children live in households that bring incomes less than twice the federal poverty level (or under $44,100). Child poverty is becoming a growing crisis in the United States, and if we as Americans don’t act to combat it now, it will only become worse. It is time for the American people to call for action on the issue of child poverty.

Although the situation may seem dire, it is possible to reverse the growing rates of child poverty. In 1999, Britain adopted the initiative to end child poverty by 2020. By promoting work, raising incomes for families with children, and investing in children, Britain has made substantial strides towards ending child poverty. Between 1994 and 2009, the percentage of children below the absolute poverty threshold fell from 30 percent to 12 percent. Through the enactment of child and family tax credits; improved paid maternity and paternity leave; the creation of universal pre-school for 3- and 4-year olds, and many other initiatives, Britain was able to significantly reduce the number of poor children.

The success of Britain demonstrates that child poverty is not intractable. Indeed, America can see similar success. By investing in programs that assist families and children who struggle financially, we too can work towards eradicating child poverty. The good news is that the United States has already taken the first steps and put programs into place that help these children.

Income supports, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), help families to provide for their children’s basic needs and keep children out of impoverished conditions. Nutritional programs, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps), the National School Meals Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), help keep millions of children healthy and well-fed. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides supplemental funds to children whose family incomes are not sufficient enough to meet their needs. The Child Care and Development Block Grant assists parents in finding childcare for their children so that they can work normal hours demanded by a job. These and other programs help lift children above the poverty line and are key to reducing child poverty in the U.S. Unfortunately, many of these programs put in place are underfunded and require Congressional action in the upcoming months.

Before year end, Congress must act to continue the improvements made, most recently in 2009, to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Additionally, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could face cuts in late 2012 or early 2013 as seen in the 2012 Farm Bill Proposal. The American public must call on Congress to preserve and strengthen these programs so that the 5 million children kept out of poverty annually by EITC and CTC and the 22 million children served by SNAP each year can continue to benefit from these investments. These, along with other policy recommendations, will greatly benefit children and families suffering from poverty.

Like Britain, the United States must make a national commitment to end child poverty within a generation. A unified goal will be able to track the progress of all the safety net programs currently serving children and their families in an easily understood way. Improving the lives of American children should be a bipartisan effort- no one wants to see children living in poor conditions. Together, the United States can tackle child poverty and ensure a brighter future for all our nation’s children.