Child poverty in the US more than doubled after pandemic aid expired

The number of children living in poverty in the US more than doubled over the last year following the expiration of federal pandemic aid that Congress declined to renew despite a historic plunge in the nation’s poverty rates.

Poverty among children surged from 5.2 per cent to 12.4 per cent, marking the largest surge in child poverty since the US Census Bureau’s adoption of the Supplemental Poverty Measure in 2009.

Overall, the supplemental poverty rate was 12.4 per cent for 2022, up from 7.8 per cent one year earlier – and higher than the poverty rate before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The spike follows two years of declines driven largely by the expansion of federal safety nets during the pandemic. The latest measure marks the first increase in more than a decade.

The Census Bureau’s report on 12 September provides the first broad snapshot of the impacts of the absence of those programs, which included direct cash payments to households, expanded unemployment payments, rental assistance and, critically, an expanded child tax credit that provided guaranteed assistance to families with children.

Virtually all of those programs have expired, with Republican lawmakers refusing to extend or make permanent any such relief.

The report “shows the dire consequences of congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit, even as they advance costly corporate tax cuts,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The rise reported today in child poverty is no accident – it is the result of a deliberate policy choice congressional Republicans made to block help for families with children while advancing massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and largest corporations,” he added.

Renewing the Child Tax Credit expansion would have prevented roughly 3 million children from entering poverty last year, according to an analysis of Census data from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Instead, the number of children in poverty more than doubled, from 4 million in 2021 to 9 million in 2022,” the group reported. “The role of the expiring expanded credit, which many policymakers want to again expand, in driving up poverty underscores that the number of children living in poverty is a policy choice.”

The numbers are “are alarming and inexcusable when solutions exist,” according to Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center.

“The tax credit served as a critical investment to address the root causes of hunger and racial disparities,” he added. “It’s time for Congress to get the nation back on track in the fight against poverty, the root cause of hunger.”

Congress initially approved the tax credit expansion with President Biden’s American Rescue Plan in 2021, a provision that many Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups pushed to make permanent or at least expanded beyond the initial pandemic-era scope of congressional relief measures. That didn’t happen.

Though inflation shock has subsided for many families as the Biden administration points to a return to a strong labor market, “there are families that will have trouble finding enough work (and enough well-paid work) to provide economic security,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is particularly true for families with children,” the group wrote in response to Tuesday’s report. “The sharp reductions in child poverty in 2020 and 2021 that were engineered even in the face of a pandemic-damaged economy show the importance of policy decisions. … More ambitious – but economically sustainable – expansions of our generally stingy welfare state could essentially eliminate poverty completely.”

That’s not a “politically realistic” idea, the group acknowledges, but the lessons of 2020 and 2021 “should not be lost” with the Census Bureau’s report.