Congress directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) in 2015 to conduct a study of childhood poverty in the United States and identify policies and programs that would reduce childhood poverty by half over the next ten years. The National Academies have released their findings in a report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. The report finds that implementing a child allowance program, expanding the provision of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs), and increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are among the most effective policies to accomplish the goal of reducing child poverty.
The Supplemental Poverty Measure estimates 13% of U.S. children (9.6 million) lived in poverty in 2015. Three percent of children were in deep poverty, defined as incomes less than 50% of the poverty level, and 36% of children were in poverty or near poverty, defined as less than 150% of the poverty level. Poverty rates vary greatly by race and ethnicity, with 8% of white children, 18% of black children, and 22% of Hispanic children living in poverty. Children are more likely to be poor if their parent or parents do not work or have less than a high school degree, if the children live with a single parent or without a parent, or if the children were born to younger mothers.
The report modeled the extent to which different policy proposals could effectively reduce child poverty. Work-oriented policy options, despite increasing employment and earnings, were the among the weakest options to reduce child poverty. Social safety net options such as implementing a child allowance, expanding Housing Choice Vouchers, and increasing SNAP benefits were among the most effective for reducing childhood poverty, despite reducing employment and earnings.
While the goal of reducing child poverty by half would require a 6.5 percentage point drop in the child poverty rate (from 13.0% to 6.5%), no single policy or program modeled in the report reduced child poverty to this level on its own. A proposed $3,000 annual child allowance, however, was modeled to reduce child poverty by 5.3 percentage points, while a $2,000 annual allowance was projected to reduce poverty by 3.4 percentage points. The third most effective option modeled was increasing the availability of HCVs to 70% of eligible families not currently receiving subsidized housing, which was estimated to reduce child poverty by 3 percentage points. Increasing SNAP benefits by 30% was estimated to reduce child poverty by 2.3 percentage points, while expanding the availability of HCVs to 50% of eligible families not currently receiving assistance or expanding the EITC by 40% would reduce child poverty by 2.1 percentage points. Job training proposals and a minimum wage increase to $10.25 produced some of the smallest effects on the child poverty rate.
The authors emphasize the importance of mitigating contextual factors which could impact the effectiveness and equity of the proposed policy options. Racial and ethnic discrimination in housing, for example, could potentially undermine benefits of expanding HCVs and the exclusion of formerly incarcerated people from many social programs could deny children of the formerly incarcerated the benefits received by children in similar economic circumstances.
A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty is available at: https://bit.ly/2Tni0bh