“Half in Ten Act” Makes Poverty Reduction a Priority

Poverty & Family Economics

Today, more than one in five children in the United States live in poverty—one of the highest child poverty levels in twenty years. Not only that, but one in ten children are in families that live on less than half of the national poverty level, on just $11,000 per year for a family of four.

That level of child poverty isn’t just unfair—it’s downright cruel to young children, for whom poverty isn’t just a temporary inconvenience but often a life sentence. Children who live in poverty, even for brief periods of time, are at lifelong risk for lower earnings, lower educational attainment, and increased rates of incarceration. Increasingly, doctors are starting to point to child poverty as a health concern, as poor children who can’t access basic medical services are at an increased risk for future health complications. And for a young child, the stress of having a parent who is experiencing poverty—often labeled “toxic stress”—can negatively impact their brain development. Allowing child poverty to remain at the level it does today not only condemns millions of children to a lifetime of hardship, but it is estimated to cost us over $500 billion per year in lost revenue and increased spending on healthcare, criminal justice, and other supports.

The status quo is simply unacceptable, and as a nation we must do better. While there are a strong set of proven supports for low-income children and families—from SNAP to Medicaid, tax credits to school lunches—these programs have yet to realize their full potential. Many of the families eligible for these benefits do not receive them, and a lack of overall coordination among the many different anti-poverty efforts keeps them from being as effective as they could be.

The Half-in-Ten Act of 2013—recently introduced by House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA)—takes the first step towards a widespread reduction of poverty by establishing a national commitment to reducing poverty by half in ten years. National poverty targets are more than just rhetoric—they set a clear, conclusive goal for both sides of the aisle to work towards, bringing parties together in a shared commitment rather than allowing them to get bogged down in partisanship and rhetoric. The Act would create a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty that would develop a national strategy to reduce overall poverty in America, eradicate child poverty, and eradicate extreme poverty within ten years. The working group would seek to improve the measurement of poverty, coordinate the many services provided to low income families, and improve access to good jobs, all as part of its overall ten-year poverty reduction strategy. With a national commitment uniting us and a national strategy guiding us, Whip Hoyer and Congresswoman Lee’s bill would set us firmly on a path towards reducing poverty—and especially child poverty.

Poverty reduction targets have a history of success. In 1999, the United Kingdom established a national target to reduce child poverty, and united the Tory and Labour parties behind a goal of halving child poverty in ten years. Through a mixture of improved tax credits, welfare to work programs, and investments in early childhood, elementary, and secondary education for children, the British government was able to reach its goal and halve child poverty in 2009.

Though there is much that divides the parties in Washington today, the belief that no child should have to go hungry is something that we can all agree upon. Just as it did for Britain, a national poverty target will allow us to unite under a shared goal and make smart, bipartisan investments in our children and families to help lift children out of the cycle of poverty for good.

In the 1960s, John Kennedy challenged us to put a man on the moon in a decade, and we did it. This decade, let’s make child poverty our target. The country that put the first man on the moon can certainly halve child poverty in ten years. More importantly, we must—our kids deserve it.

To learn more about the Half-In-Ten Act, please click here.