COVID-19 pushing poverty numbers higher

Today’s reintroduction of the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2020 has come just in time. 

The Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2020 (S. 4115/H.R. 7419), put forward by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), commits to cutting child poverty in half in 10 years, just as the pandemic pushes child poverty toward record levels. The legislation also creates national, evidence-based benchmarks and monitoring to hold lawmakers accountable. 

The U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, led by First Focus Campaign for Children, and a dozen of its members applaud the bill’s introduction. 

“Child poverty is the shame of our nation,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “There is no reason that the richest country on earth should have one of the highest child poverty rates. In addition to being a flat-out moral failure, our reluctance to end child poverty also limits our country’s economic, social, and cultural future.”

Child poverty has remained stubbornly high in the U.S. despite strong employment and economic figures. Before the pandemic, child poverty afflicted nearly 12 million children, or 16 percent — higher than nearly any other industrialized nation. Research from Columbia University predicts that the outbreak and its economic fallout could increase child poverty by as much as 53 percent. Already, 40 percent of mothers with children under 12 reported in April they are struggling to put food on the table.

Children of color live in poverty at three times the rate of white children. And just as COVID-19 has taken a greater toll on Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities, the pandemic’s economic impact will disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic, and Native American children.

Child poverty, especially for babies and young children, can impair a person’s long-term physical and mental health, as well as their educational outcomes, income-earning potential and other facets of well-being. Because of its impact on children’s individual well-being, child poverty also negatively affects our country’s economy, costing the nation roughly $1 trillion every year. 

“Child poverty underlies a persistent tangle of inequities in our society,” said Rep. Davis. “Children who grow up poor end up earning less than other children, they suffer significantly greater health risks, encounter more trauma and social conflict, and face greater barriers in education in proportion to the number of years they live in poverty. We need the tools to measure and understand the links behind childhood poverty and long-term outlooks for child development. This legislation will provide the non-partisan, scientific basis for shaping evidence-based programs and policies to level the playing field for all our children.”

“Over 15 percent of children in Pennsylvania grow up in poverty. This is unacceptable,” said Senator Casey. “The Child Poverty Reduction Act makes a commitment to cut child poverty in half over the next decade. We must ensure every child has the opportunity to grow and flourish and every child in America should have the freedom to reach her or his full potential.”

Child poverty is a problem with proven solutions. A 2019 landmark study from the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences offers evidence-based models for cutting child poverty within a decade, suggesting that lawmakers know how to reduce child poverty, they simply lack the will to do so. The Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2020 establishes a framework for building that political will and ensuring progress by committing to cut our national child poverty rate in half within a decade and directing the NAS to report annually on progress toward that goal.

Similar measures successfully reduced child poverty in the United Kingdom, which halved its rate between 1999 and 2008. Pre-pandemic, Canada had cut child poverty by a third since 2015. Several U.S. states also have mounted campaigns to reduce child poverty. 

The following CPAG members endorse the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2020: Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Health Fund, First Focus Campaign for Children, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Counties, National Center for Children in Poverty/Bank Street Graduate School of Education, National Diaper Bank Network, National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, National WIC Association, Save the Children Action Network, ZERO TO THREE.