ACCORDING TO LIZ - In 2022, the poverty rate for children more than doubled – from a historic low of 5.2 percent in 2021 to 12.4 percent – the largest single-year increase on record.
Proposed levels of funding in next year’s appropriation bills in both the Senate and House demonstrate equal disregard for the poor, especially the children. Slashing spending for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and sharply reducing support for the science-based health benefit of fresh fruits and vegetables.
If the government can turn more than a trillion of our tax dollars over to the war machine, and lavish another trillion in tax breaks on the wealthiest of Americans, why is Congress starving our children?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously declared:
“But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.”
“I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.”
“I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.”
“I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.”
“I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Poverty causes multiple health issues, many of which can never be reversed. As infants’ lack of adequate nutrition impedes their physical growth. In school-age, it affects children’s ability to concentrate and learn.
Poverty curtails intellectual development; and parents working two and three jobs lack the time and energy let alone the financial wherewithal to read to their kids and pay for their participation in extracurricular activities.
Poverty, hunger, low education, and lack of healthcare contribute to reduced life expectancy, a statistic that now ranks Americans below Slovenians and Poles.
And the United States is the ONLY developed nation without healthcare for ALL, not for all who can afford it.
Policies do make a difference.
Drastic interventions by Franklin Roosevelt’s administration reduced unemployment in the U.S. from almost 25 percent in the mid-1930s to around 10 percent by the start of the Second World War.
Under Lyndon Johnson, Congress enacted Medicare and Medicaid which tackled the explosion of medical costs for older Americans, dramatically reducing across-the-board poverty from 22 percent to 13 percent.
Government intervention is good when it helps ordinary Americans. It fails when it only protects the interests of the wealthy and powerful.
Half the members of Congress are millionaires, some hundreds of times over, and many rarely vote against their personal interests or against those funding their campaigns. Then salve their cruelty by rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, ever-distancing themselves from the hoi-polloi that they purport to represent.
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) policy that provided eligible families with up to $300 per month for each child, and eliminated the original Child Tax Credit's regressive phase-in, had helped push the U.S. child poverty rate to that record low of 5.2%.
Multi-millionaires Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema voted to not extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit that had cut the rate of child poverty in half during the pandemic.
Sinema had to protect the carried interest tax loophole for her well-heeled hedge fund donors.
And Manchin claimed parents would use the money on drugs instead of their children. But surveys revealed that, overwhelmingly, families spent the money on the bare essentials – food and rent.
In 2022, the Census Bureau reported that more than 37 million Americans lived in poverty, with overall rates ramping up from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% last year.
Compared to other countries, the United States has historically taken abysmally poor care of its disadvantaged citizens. But building on the success of the ARP policies, future ambitious but economically sustainable expansions could eventually eliminate poverty.
Poverty is very expensive for the country as a whole: poor people don’t have the cash to buy the products that make the economy boom.
Instead, as is consistently pointed out by the monied class, the costs of welfare, food stamps, reimbursement of uncompensated emergency room care, housing subsidies and more are a constant drain on federal and state treasuries.
But instead of beating the poor further into the ground, what about lending them a helping hand that will pay off in spades down the line?
While there continues to be absolutely no evidence that tax cuts promote growth, the 1960s anti-poverty programs themselves provide concrete evidence that they work for us all.
The Food Stamp and Medicaid programs were rolled out gradually across the country, providing a wealth of data on the incremental impact on Americans. Children who benefited from the new programs grew up to be in better health overall, economically better off and better educated – healthier, wealthier and wiser – than those who didn’t.
It’s just common sense to provide robust support to families so their children don’t become a fiscal burden to society. And further increase budget deficits.
Because their initial incomes are so low, moderate amounts make huge differences to the well-being of families subsisting south of the poverty line.
An extension to the Child Tax Credit would cost little over $100 billion annually for children who have their entire lives ahead of them, not cheap but less than 5% of what goes out in Social Security and Medicare payments. Reversing the Trump tax cuts for the uber-rich could pay for this twice over.
Our elected officials have made specific choices to push people back into poverty. It is up to us to push back at them, to make them rethink their priorities. They must meet Roosevelt’s challenge to our democracy, not by adding more to the abundance of the donor class, but by ensuring sufficient contributions to those who have too little.
Those being paid to be our advocates in the Senate and Congress should emulate walking in Christ’s footsteps and not in those of the Pharisees.
Robert Reich points out that their current policies push blameless children into misery, and it’s really miserable to be poor in America.
And in the richest country in the world, no child should have to suffer.
(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)