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China Daily Global / 2021-02 / 18 / Page001

Lawmakers in US looking at ways to greatly reduce child poverty rate

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-02-18 00:00

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates for children among the world's wealthiest nations, and now US lawmakers are looking to dramatically lower the rate, which affects around 11 million children.

"The escalation of hardship and uncertainty during the pandemic has renewed the focus on making sure that low-income families with children, in particular, have the resources they need to put food on the table for their children," said Zachary Parolin, an assistant professor at Bocconi University in Italy and a senior researcher at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, according to The New York Times.

In the US, around one in six children lived in poverty in 2018, according to the nonprofit Children's Defense Fund. The child poverty rate in 2018 was 16 percent, compared with 11 percent for adults ages 18 to 64 and 10 percent for those 65 or older, it said in a report last year.

The nonprofit said children are considered poor if they live in a family with an annual income below the federal poverty line of $25,701 for a family of four.

Three in 20 US residents under the age of 18 lived below the poverty line at the end of last year, according to Columbia University's poverty and social policy center. The share rises to more than one in five for black and Hispanic children, which is more than double the rate for white children.

Black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian children are disproportionately represented among children living in poverty, according to the Children's Defense Fund. More than 25 percent of black children were poor in 35 states and the District of Columbia in 2018; Hispanic children in 29 states; and American Indian/Native Alaskan children in 20 states.

Studies have shown that child poverty causes many social problems. Poor children are more likely to do poorly in school and drop out later, becoming unemployed and experiencing economic hardship.

In a 2018 report, study co-author Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis said it was estimated that for every dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty, the US could save between $7 and $12 in future expenditures, because child poverty is associated with higher healthcare costs, lower economic productivity and higher criminal justice costs.

The Washington University publication The Source quoted Rank earlier this month as saying: "In 2015, childhood poverty cost the United States slightly over $1 trillion, which represented 28 percent of the entire federal budget. By reducing child poverty in the present, we save an enormous amount of tax dollars in the future. Reducing poverty among children is not only the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing to do."

While Congress has passed several tax credits in recent decades to help the poor-including a child tax credit in the 2017 tax overhaul-many don't reach children whose parents are not working.

Anti-poverty legislation also has encountered opposition from conservative groups that say that spending money not conditioned on earning income outside the home acts as a disincentive to work, making it easier for low-income parents to quit their jobs and rely solely on government support.

Regarding plans being proposed, Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told The Associated Press, "They're clearly using this COVID situation to try and permanently change the welfare state and permanently enlarge it." He said that needy families already have access to extensive anti-poverty programs.

The Biden administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal calls for $3,600 for each child under 6, and $3,000 for children between 6 and 17. The plan also would increase the Child Tax Credit, which now provides $2,000 annually for children under 17.

According to Columbia University's poverty and social policy center, Biden's relief plan could reduce the child poverty rate from 14.9 percent to 9.3 percent. Among US residents under the age of 18, the deep poverty rate could be cut in half, from 4.6 percent to 2.3 percent.

While the Democrats' version would be tied to income, Republican US Senator Mitt Romney of Utah last week proposed giving $4,200 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per year for every child age 6 to 17.

Romney's proposal would establish monthly payments of up to $350 per child, larger than the temporary ones proposed by President Joe Biden.


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