Reducing poverty will require political will
Nearly three million New Yorkers live in poverty and 895,303 of them are children. An additional 643,000 children are in low-income households above the poverty level. That’s over a million New York children living in households struggling to pay rent, heat their homes, get transportation, and feed their children. The US Census Bureau’s most recent data show 11.9 million children living in poverty and that children are 54.4 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults.
Allowing children to grow up in poverty is bad for all of us. A strong body of evidence shows that a lack of family economic security compromises children’s ability to grow and achieve success in adulthood, hurting those children and families and society overall. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)’s 2019 report concludes that poverty causes negative outcomes, especially if it occurs in early childhood or persists through a large part of childhood.
For more than a decade, the percentage of New York children living in poverty has barely budged, remaining stuck at 20 percent, give or take a point. In some New York communities, child poverty exceeds 50 percent. New York’s economy hums along, with median household income growing each year, and one in five children unable to meet basic needs.
At the same time, the federal government has proposed numerous changes to federal law and regulations, including changes to the public charge rule, and alterations to the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the manner in which the official poverty measure is calculated, that, if enacted, could dramatically roll back anti-poverty supports for children and families in New York and across the nation.
It is time for New York to set poverty reduction targets and meet them. There have been initiatives and pilot programs, but for the last ten years, little measurable progress. The NASEM report concludes that it is feasible to cut child poverty with evidence-based programs and policies. No one single policy is a magic bullet. Policy packages that show particular promise would increase refundable working family tax credits for low- and middle-income people; increase housing vouchers; expand child care subsidies; expand food assistance; replace the child tax credit with a universal child allowance; increase immigrants’ access to safety net programs. Dede Hill, Policy Director at The Schuyler Center, recently presented testimony urging New York to adopt bold strategies to reduce child poverty at an October 21, 2019 Hearing before the Senate Social Services and Aging Communities.
Reducing poverty will require political will. And it will cost money. The data suggests that it will be money well spent.