January 08, 2016

Worcester Telegram & Gazette Op-Ed: Learning to cut child poverty

Last month, Congress took a step to help millions of children escape poverty.

Across the country, roughly sixteen million children live in poverty, including more than half the children in public schools. In Massachusetts, 208,000 children live below the poverty line.

Poverty is hard on children. Poor children are more likely to have low birth weights, more trouble learning to read, and more problems getting along in school. These early disadvantages never go away. As adults, children reared in poverty are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to live in poverty themselves.

In December, Congressman Elijah Cummings and I invited several child poverty experts - Sister Simone Campbell, leader of the Nuns on the Bus; Kathy Edin, the noted professor who wrote $2.00 a Day and other books on poverty; and Bob Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which studies poverty - for a national forum on childhood poverty. America is supposed to be a land of opportunity - a place where anyone can get ahead so long as they work hard and play by the rules. But the numbers tell a different story. Research shows that, more and more, where you are born plays a powerful role in whether you succeed.

But the story has a hopeful twist: we are learning how to cut child poverty. Careful research from the Columbia University Population Research Center shows that safety net programs such as food stamps, cash assistance, unemployment insurance, and housing and energy assistance, have reduced the child poverty rate by about 40 percent, giving millions of children a real pathway to success.

According to the experts at our forum, two federal programs in particular have a significant impact on helping families out of poverty: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). These two tax credits alone lift more than 5 million children out of poverty and lessen the impact of poverty for another 8 million children.

Together, the EITC and CTC are doing more to reduce child poverty than any other federal program. And they do it by helping working parents, which gives children an up-closeand- personal example of how to make it in America.

Parts of the EITC and CTC programs were scheduled to expire, but in the year-end funding bill Congress made the 2009 Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit expansions permanent. These programs have proven their worth - and now, they're part of our longterm strategy to help more parents make it into the workforce and build real economic security for their families.
The impact will be felt across Massachusetts and throughout the country. In Massachusetts alone, 169,000 middle- and low-income families with 305,000 children - including 44,000 kids in the Worcester area - will have an average of $990 more each year than they would if this part of the EITC and CTC had expired. For families struggling to make ends meet, when every dollar counts, that's a lot of money.

Extending the EITC and CTC is also good for local business. The extra slice of help adds up to $168 million across the Commonwealth and $23.7 million in the Worcester area that will be spent in local businesses, helping to create jobs and drive economic growth.
We've put together reports on how permanent expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit would help families in every metro area in every state. To read them, visit www.warren.senate.gov/ taxcreditreport.

I don't kid myself. It will take a lot more than tax credits to eliminate child poverty in America. A higher minimum wage, universal childcare, and schedules that work for families so a mom can know if her hours are canceled before she arranges daycare and drives halfway across town for work would all go a long way toward giving families a fighting chance to lift themselves from poverty.

There are a lot of moving parts to ending child poverty, but we have two programs right in front of us with solid proof that they work - and with Congress's year-end vote, hundreds of thousands of children in Massachusetts will be kept out of poverty and hardworking families will have a fighting chance to succeed. In an ugly and cynical Washington, it is good to know that sometimes we can do something good to make a real difference in the lives of millions of children.

By:  Senator Elizabeth Warren
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette