Earlier this month, the United State Census Bureau released the latest nationwide poverty data. The Bureau found that 16.2% of children (11.9 million) in the U.S. were living below the federal poverty level in 2018.  To make that concrete, a family of four falls below the poverty threshold if household income is less than $25,750.  What those numbers really mean is that 11.9 million U.S. children are living lives marked by instability and need.  One more number:  U.S. children are 54% more likely to live in poverty than adults.

If the national data isn’t shocking enough, let’s look at New York, where children were more likely to live in poverty than in 31 other states in 2017 (the latest state level census data currently available).  More than 20%, or approximately 855,000 New York children lived below the federal poverty threshold that year, (including approximately 253,000 children under age five), with that rate rising to nearly one in three among children of color.  And 2017 was no aberration.  New York’s child poverty rate has not dipped below 20% since 2007.

New York, with the 14th strongest economy in the nation, and an annual budget of more than $175 billion, certainly has the resources to dramatically reduce child poverty.  What that means:  New York leaders (and national leaders), have made the choice year after year to allow hundreds of thousands of New York children to experience poverty.  And they have made that choice, year after year, knowing that experiencing poverty as a child – even for short stints – can cause devastating and enduring harm to children’s physical and mental health, educational success, future earnings.

While there is no single, simple means to tackle child poverty, there is a growing understanding around the nation and the world about the outsized positive benefits income supports can have for children’s well-being. This understanding has led many state and federal lawmakers to advance proposals to supplement the income of low-income families and individuals through child allowances or refundable tax credits. Driving this emerging discussion is the strong evidence that such policies – particularly child allowances – long in effect in many peer nations, have dramatically reduced child poverty.  For instance, the child poverty rate in most European countries is less than half that found in the United States.

New York State is overdue to take aggressive, innovative steps to reduce the number of children growing up in poverty.  A centerpiece of Schuyler Center’s 2020 Agenda is to expand and strengthen New York’s refundable tax credits to put more money in the pockets of more New York families, particularly families with young children.  These reforms would provide immediate economic relief to thousands of children and families and set an example for the rest of the nation.

We are hopeful that 2020 will be the year New York leaders choose to make reducing child poverty a top priority.