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Child Poverty Data a Call to Action for Congress, Advocates Say
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Nutrition Poverty & Family Economics Tax Policy
Washington – The United States Census Bureau today released national poverty data for 2013, reporting that nearly 20 percent of children in America lived in poverty last year. Though lower than 2012 (nearly 22 percent), child poverty in 2013 was still well above the overall poverty rate (less than 15 percent) and much higher than before the recession (the Census Bureau reported a 17.4 percent child poverty rate in 2007).
Data from federal agencies confirm that federal investments in children can and do blunt poverty’s reach. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reduced childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million children. And the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduced child poverty by 2.9 million children that year.
But a comparison of child poverty and poverty among senior citizens (9.5 percent, less than half the child poverty rate) reveals that there is much more our nation’s leaders can do to protect children. The federal government makes much more substantial investments in reducing poverty among the elderly than in reducing child poverty. And initiatives like Social Security, Medicare, and tax subsidies for employer-sponsored retirement plans, all of which benefit seniors, are not subject to annual political processes and pressures. By contrast, Congress cut SNAP last year, and improvements that make the EITC more effective in reducing child poverty will expire in 2017.
First Focus has urged a new approach to reducing child poverty, modeled on an effective multipartisan effort in the United Kingdom. The British government acted years ago to establish a national child poverty reduction target, backed by benchmarks against which progress could be measured. Though the task is not complete, Britain has seen reductions in child poverty since the establishment of a target policy, while child poverty in the U.S. has continued to rise.
A First Focus Campaign for Children poll conducted on election eve in 2012 showed strong bipartisan support among voters for action to reduce child poverty. That survey found 82 percent of voters (89 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents, and 76 percent of Republicans) want Congress and the White House to deliver a plan to cut child poverty in half within 10 years.
Reacting to today’s Census Bureau data, First Focus released the following statement from First Focus President Bruce Lesley:
“America’s succeeded in protecting seniors from poverty, because Congress decided that was important. Britain has shown us it is possible to protect children, too. The only remaining question is this: will this Congress go home to spend the holidays with their children having done nothing to help the nearly one-fifth of children living in poverty?”
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First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.firstfocus.net.