Bill Offers Proven Plan on Child Poverty
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Poverty & Family Economics
Washington – The bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children today endorsed legislation to set a national target date for the elimination of child poverty. Other endorsers included Child Welfare League of America, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, National Network for Youth, Save the Children, and Save the Children Action Network. The Child Poverty Reduction Act (H.R. 2408), introduced today by Congressman Danny Davis (D-Illinois), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California), and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) aims to cut child poverty in half in 10 years and end child poverty in America within 20 years. The approach is modeled on a successful effort in the United Kingdom that resulted in significant child poverty progress. Measured in U.S. terms, the UK’s Child Poverty Target and resulting policy changes cut Britain’s child poverty rate by 50 percent during the effort’s first decade (1999-2009). By contrast, the U.S. child poverty rate increased by 23 percent, from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 19.9 percent in 2014.
“There’s one reason the last 15 years have been better for Britain’s children than for America’s – because the UK made a choice to reduce child poverty,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “We applaud Congressman Davis, Congressman Connolly, and Congresswoman Lee for leading the effort in Congress, and we challenge their colleagues to commit to doing something on child poverty.”
Child poverty has devastating economy-wide effects. Georgetown University researcher Harry Holzer testified before Congress in 2007 that, in terms of lost productivity and increased health care and crime-related burdens, child poverty costs America’s economy nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. The Great Recession cost the economy 4.7 percent of GDP over two years.
“Allowing kids to remain in poverty does nearly as much harm to our economy as the Great Recession,” said Lesley. “We all have an interest in moving beyond hand-wringing and actually solving this problem.”
An April analysis by First Focus and the international policy analysis center InclusionUS reviews the UK’s Child Poverty Target: a multi-partisan agreement to eliminate child poverty by a date certain, with benchmarks against which to measure progress, and backed by independent monitoring. The paper tracks how the UK government coordinated with the equivalents of state and local governments. And it details how the UK government implemented a mix of policies aimed at meet the immediate needs of families with children and policies and policies designed to make families with children more economically resilient over the long term.
The Child Poverty Reduction Act adapts the poverty target idea for the United States. Key provisions include:
- Sets a national target to cut child poverty in half in 10 years and end child poverty by within 20 years;
- Charges a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Child Poverty with developing a plan to reach that target, including recommendations to improve the coordination and efficiency of existing initiatives and recommendations for new legislation required to reach the target
- Requests the National Academy of Sciences to assist in the development of a plan by researching the societal costs of child poverty and make non-partisan recommendations on how to reduce child poverty; and
- Tasks the working group with monitoring progress toward the target at the federal and state levels
“Politics are the biggest obstacle to progress on child poverty – that’s the big lesson from Britain’s success. Yes, the policies ultimately matter, but getting all the parties to accept shared responsibility for real progress on child poverty would break the logjam,” said Lesley.
Poverty is a daunting problem, but one federal government has effectively responded to before. During the 1960s, the poverty rate for the elderly was higher than for children. Federal government dramatically reduced poverty among seniors, by enacting Social Security, Medicare, tax-subsidized retirement plans, and other effective antipoverty investments. But federal government failed to make similar investments in reducing child poverty. Today, the national child poverty rate is double the poverty rate for seniors. In some states, it’s close to triple.
“The federal government knows how to make real progress on poverty. For kids, they just haven’t,” said Lesley
Democratic and Republican Congressional representatives and presidential candidates have expressed concern about the nation’s persistently high poverty rate, often citing children as an imperative for change. But comprehensive proposals targeted to reducing child poverty had not been offered by lawmakers of either party, until today’s introduction of the Child Poverty Reduction Act.
“We hope and expect that policymakers who are serious about reducing child poverty will cosponsor this practical proposal, but we know not everyone will like this approach. For them, we have a simple message: we look forward to seeing your plan to end child poverty.”
The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit campaignforchildren.org.