Beautiful baby boy playing with his toysThe Presidential candidates from both parties have spoken about improving economic opportunities for people living in poverty, but none focus on babies, toddlers and preschoolers, who represent one of the largest and growing segments of the poor. Here are 5 things the candidates need to know about poverty among our youngest children

1. Babies, Toddlers and Preschool-Aged Children Make up the Majority of the Poor

With a poverty rate of 23.8, babies, toddlers and preschoolers make up the highest percentage of poor children. In addition, 11 percent of young children (age 0-9) live in deep poverty, defined as a family income of below 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. To put this in perspective, a family of 3 living in deep poverty survives on less than $9 a day per family member. Although the majority of poor children are white, poverty disproportionately impacts children of color, with 43 percent of African American and 34 percent of Hispanic children under age 5 living in poverty. Poverty stacks the decks against young children it ways that cause them to fall behind in school, increases their risks of experiencing violence, crime, child abuse and neglect, hunger, adverse health conditions, and leads to a future where they will become poor adults. These problems are compounded for children living in deep poverty, who experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and developmental delays, live in communities of concentrated disadvantage and deprivation, and experience lead poisoning at rates 17 times higher than non-poor children. We all suffer the costs of child poverty. A 2007 study by professors at Georgetown University estimated that child poverty costs our nation $500 billion each year in lost productivity, higher crime rates, incarceration, and increased health expenditures, a figure that equates to $672 billion today. 

2. Federal Anti-Poverty Programs Help Reduce Childhood Poverty

Given our high national poverty rate, some argue that government anti-poverty programs have been ineffective, and made children and families more dependent on government assistance. Studies show just the opposite. In fact, research demonstrates that programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Assistance Program (EITC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and housing assistance programs have reduced poverty since the 1960s by as much as 11 percent among children. In fact, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are two of the most effective programs at reducing poverty while encouraging workforce participation. Year after year, the EITC and CTC reduce poverty. According to recent IRS estimates, in 2014, the EITC and CTC lifted approximately 10.1 million people out of poverty, including 5.3 million children. Groundbreaking research has recently proven that larger EITC and CTC benefits are linked to important early childhood benefits at every stage of life. These include improvements in maternal health and reductions in low birth weight and premature births, two of the largest drivers of health costs to the Medicaid program; higher test scores and academic achievement, particularly in math, for elementary and middle-school students whose families receive larger tax credits and refunds; greater likelihood that children in low-income families receiving EITC and CTC to go to college as a result of improved academic performance and increased income making college more affordable; and increased workforce participation of children in families with boosted income as a result of the EITC, CTC and other tax benefits. Congress recently made improvements in these tax credits permanent, but more can be done. The CTC should be indexed for inflation, like other government benefits, to provide more resources in the hands of working parents. In addition, the CTC should include a “baby bonus” within the CTC that would double it during the first two years of a child’s life to support newborn babies.

3. The Federal Share of Spending on Children’s Programs that Help Reduce Poverty Has Steadily Declined

Contrary to popular belief, the share of federal spending dedicated to children’s health, educational and economic programs has been steadily declining and now stands at less than 8 percent of the federal budget. And, although federal spending is projected to increase, virtually none of that spending will be directed toward children, but instead will go to retirement and health spending for adults and interests on our national debt. In fact, children have borne the lion share of budget cuts to help balance the federal budget crisis, a problem that children did not create. Presidential candidates can take a stand against this perverse trend and commit to allocating a fair share of our national budget to ensure the wellbeing of children. For more information about children’s declining share of the federal budget see First Focus’s Budget Book and information on the racial generation gap.

4. Effective Early Childhood Programs Reduce Child Poverty

The foundations of brain architecture and lifelong learning are developed when children are babies and toddlers. Effective early childhood programs act as force multipliers to promote early health and learning opportunities that reduce childhood poverty. Candidates should support increased funding for programs:

  • Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), which funds state and local home visiting programs with impressive track records of improved birth outcomes, early child health and development, parenting skills, access community resources, and maternal employment, all leading to reductions in poverty. Funding for this modest program needs to be increased so that it serves every low0income family in need of its services.
  • Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides subsidies to working parents to allow them to work or go to school. With childcare costs rivaling the cost of tuition at public universities, working families need high-quality childcare to maintain stable employment.
  • Quality preschool acts as an academic equalizer for children living in poverty. It helps prepare them for school by improving their language, literacy and mathematical skills and can help with their social-emotional development. Studies have shown that for every $1 invested in preschool, society saves $7 in reduced expenditures.

5. Establishing a Child Poverty Target Would Reduce Child Poverty

We can reduce child poverty by establishing a target to cut child poverty in half in ten years. This has been done before with success. In 2000, the UK established a national child poverty target, which united the Tory and Labour parties behind a goal of halving child poverty in ten years. Through a mixture of investments for children, measures to make work pay, and efforts to increase financial support for families, the British government (using an absolute, or fixed, measure of poverty) halved child poverty by 2010.

Legislation pending in the House of Representatives and Senate would establish a national target to reduce the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. by one-half in ten years and eliminate child poverty in 20 years. It would accomplish this important goal by implementing a process to identify the most effective anti-poverty interventions and creating a federal interagency work group to develop a poverty plan, to improve coordination and efficiency in existing initiatives and programs, and to offer recommendations regarding ways to reduce child poverty with coordinated strategies that address employment opportunities, wage disparities, housing needs, early childhood programs and services, healthcare, nutrition, racial and gender disparities, and other real life issues that impact poor children and their families.

We urge the Presidential candidates to take a stand against child poverty by supporting these and other measures to significantly reduce poverty among our youngest children and their families.

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