In the United States, over 10 million children live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s the lowest child poverty rate in decades, but researchers and public policy experts are determined to bring down that number even further.
In a recently published report called “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty” from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, its co-authors suggest policy changes that they claim could cut child poverty in half in just 10 years.
Cynthia Osborne contributed to the report. She’s associate dean and director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Osborne says the irony of child poverty is that it’s expensive.
“[It’s] estimated at about a trillion dollars a year in costs associated with serving poor families,” Osborne says. “But it’s also very costly in terms of their health and well-being and long-term development.
Osborne says if poverty is addressed early enough in a child’s life, it can make a “life-long difference.”
She says that the co-authors first looked at 20 existing policies to determine how effective they were at reducing childhood poverty. They found that none of the policies alone could come close to reducing poverty by half in 10 years. But they did find that certain combinations of policies could make a big difference.
“Especially if we increased the Earned Income Tax Credit … if we expand the child care tax credit, if we expand some housing subsidies, we can reduce poverty by half within 10 years,” Osborne says. “We can really target those who are in deep poverty, which means that they earn fewer than 50 percent of the federal poverty line.”
Osborne says it would cost about $90 billion annually, but that it’s cheaper than the $1 trillion she says the U.S. spends on dealing with the effects of poverty every year. She says she’s confident in the policy recommendations because she and the committee used computer modeling to test how certain policy changes would affect a person’s work life, their income and ultimately their poverty level.
Reducing child poverty by half in a decade is a reasonable goal, Osborne says, because it’s been done before in other countries in less time.
“The United Kingdom made it a policy goal … and they did it in less than a decade,” Osborne says. “In Canada, they’ve just introduced a new child allowance, and they’re on track to reducing child poverty by half in even less time.”
She says it’s an investment that seems costly initially, but that it will improve people’s health and save money in the long run.
Written by Caroline Covington.