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Report: U.S. child poverty rate falls

 Girl Scouts fill food pantry
Ashley Hupfl
Girl Scouts fill food pantry

A new report finds child poverty rates in the U.S. fell dramatically between 1993 and 2019.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Vice President for Policy Avenel Joseph said economic assistance policies dramatically affected the federal poverty line, which in turn made real impacts on people's lives.

The report, conducted by the nonprofit Child Trends, found child poverty nationally fell an unprecedented 59% over the past 25 years.

"So this report took a really deep dive and poverty levels over a time period from 1993 to 2019," Joseph said.

"What we saw over that period of time is that in the state of New York, child poverty decreased by more than half. It went from 32%, down to 14%. In 2019, in Vermont, it went from 17%, down to 9% in 2019. In Connecticut, it went from 22% in 1993, down to 9% in 2019. And in Massachusetts, we saw childhood poverty, plunge from 24% down to 7% over that 25 year period," he added.

"What we saw, when you look at all of these states, including across the country, is that these significant declines in poverty, were due to policies that help children and help families meet their essential needs, like the ability to buy food, the ability to have cash assistance through the child tax credit or Earned Income Tax Credit, to pay their utilities, or their rent or mortgage and all of that has helped to lift people above the poverty line," Joseph said.

Though encouraged by the numbers, Joseph fears that the expiration of pandemic-era relief programs could trigger a reversal of this trend.

"What we know is that from 2021 and 2022, because of the pandemic, we had emergency assistance that was put in place from the federal government that increased the Child Tax Credit, increased the ability for universal school lunches, and increased food stamps, the Supplemental Nutritional nutrition program," said Joseph.

"All of these things have helped dramatically in the past year, those policies combined decreased childhood poverty by more than 50%. That was not included in the Child Trends report because it was an outlier year, we made those investments in response to the pandemic and most of those investments, most of those policies have since expired. And as a result, what we're seeing is that families and children are being punched back into poverty," he added.

Joseph points out that race continues to be a major factor and thinks the Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade could dramatically impact child poverty going forward.

"Poor Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately affected by poverty," Joseph said.

"And that's also true when it comes to the impact of the Dobbs decision on women of color. And on women who live in poverty. When you put those things together, it means that what you're going to have is more children that are living in poverty. So it's more important now than ever, that we invest in the policies that support families and children. And these include things like affordable childcare, safe and secure housing, paid family and medical leave, including and the Child Tax Credit that I mentioned before. I think in addition to Dobbs will be also having this period of inflation, which is making the strain on families across the floor is that much more eminent and tight," he continued.

According to 2019 Child Opportunity Index 2.0 statistics gathered by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University, in Albany 68.7% of Black children lived in very low-opportunity neighborhoods compared to only 9.2% of white children. In January 2020, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, project director for diversitydatakids.org, told WAMC the Index has already been a catalyst for change in the Capital Region.

"There was concern about the ranking that Albany got of really bad conditions for Black children, and that moved some people I think, in terms of the discussion about school funding, in the three-city area," said Acevedo-Garcia.

Joseph stresses that although there have been dramatic improvements over just one single generation in decreasing childhood poverty in the United States, 8 million children continue to live in poverty.
Read the full report here.
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Dave Lucas