Good public policy is vital in the fight against poverty, and U.S. Census data released last month demonstrates its importance. The 2021 Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion is uplifting proof of how better policies can reduce poverty and ease suffering. And Congress needs to renew this expansion when it returns to Washington, D.C., after the general election.
Many of the people-first policies in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) swiftly combated economic insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the CTC expansion was the most resounding success. It heavily contributed to a major decline in child poverty rates nationwide, with the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) for children dropping by nearly half, falling from nearly 10% to about 5%.
ARPA’s one-year CTC expansion increased the maximum credit for children under age 6 to $3,600, and for all other children to $3,000. It made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds, who previously were ineligible. Congress so far has failed to renew the expansion for 2022, but lawmakers should revisit that decision later this year.
The SPM differs from the official poverty measure in that it provides a fuller, more realistic understanding of economic insecurity. The SPM includes the effects of non-cash benefits like housing subsidies and the CTC. And the data shows the CTC expansion alone kept more than 5 million Americans above the poverty line.
CTC expansion reduced racial disparities
Importantly, this impact was especially significant for people of color. Hispanic children saw a dramatic nationwide reduction in poverty, with SPM rates falling from about 15% in 2020 to 8.4% in 2021. SPM rates for Black children saw similar improvement, falling from 18% to 8% during the same period.
Black and Hispanic children are still more likely to experience poverty than white children, but the expanded CTC shows the power of public policy to reduce racial disparities, promote broadly shared prosperity and create a more economically equitable society. The Census Bureau graph below demonstrates the expanded CTC’s dramatic effect on child SPM rates by race.
While the CTC expansion isn’t yet permanent, its impact was clear, immediate and overwhelmingly positive. The expansion’s benefits speak volumes for the power of strong, deliberate public policy to reduce economic insecurity and racial disparities.
People-first public policy works. Just ask the 5.3 million Americans kept out of poverty by the expanded Child Tax Credit. It’s time for Congress to step up to the plate and make the CTC expansion permanent.