A Comprehensive, Two-Generational Approach to Reduce Child Poverty

By Rhiannon Reeves

Nearly one in five children hold the unfortunate distinction of living in a poor family; and the younger children are, the more likely they are to be poor. The poverty rate is higher yet among young Black children and young Hispanic children (44 percent and 33 percent respectively). According to a new report from the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), despite having the largest economy in the world, the United States has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized countries.

The CDF report, Ending Child Poverty Now, finds that child poverty could be reduced by 60 percent with a $77 billion investment in existing policies and programs. That’s just 15 percent of the estimated $500 billion the nation spends every year addressing the consequences of children growing up poor. We would be a wiser country to invest in children earlier, preventing hardship and negative outcomes. 

Each single policy recommendation listed in the report could contribute to the reduction of child poverty on its own, but with less impact. The combined impacts of several policies have the potential to substantially improve economic circumstances for poor children and their families. Approaches identified in the report include increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income families with children, increasing the federal minimum wage, making child care subsidies available to all eligible families below 150 percent of poverty, and making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable.

Similarly, the domestic priorities recently included in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address would increase opportunity for poor, low-income, and middle-income families through a comprehensive, two-generation policy approach. This includes an acknowledgement that child care assistance must be expanded for working families.

To truly improve the lives of low-income children and their parents, we must wisely consider the needs of two generations. It’s critical that federal and state policymakers consider comprehensive investments in health, nutrition, income support, and education programs.