A steep drop in child poverty

A steep drop in child poverty

Child poverty has decreased by 59% since 1993, according to a new report from Child Trends. Deep poverty, meaning families survive on income that’s less than half the federal poverty line – also decreased by nearly the same amount. As The New York Times’ Jason DeParle explains, this unprecedented decline in child poverty came with little fanfare and was largely the result of expanded federal safety-net programs. 

The analysis found that multiple forces reduced child poverty, including lower unemployment, increased labor force participation among single mothers and the growth of state-level minimum wages. But a dominant factor was the expansion of government aid. In 1993, safety net programs cut child poverty by 9 percent from what it would have been absent the aid. By 2019, those programs had cut child poverty by 44 percent, and the number of children they removed from poverty more than tripled to 6.5 million. “This is an astounding decline in child poverty,” said Dana Thomson, a co-author of the Child Trends study. “Its magnitude is unequaled in the history of poverty measurement, and the single largest explanation is the growth of the safety net.”

At the center of this progress is a pair of targeted tax credits that have grown in size and scope: 

Nothing better shows the aid expansion than the growth of two wage subsidies: the earned-income tax credit, which expanded greatly in the 1990s, and the child tax credit, which only recently extended significant help to low-income families. By 2019, a parent who had two children and worked full time at the average minimum wage could receive about $8,300 from the programs — more than three times as much as in 1993, adjusted for inflation. The earned-income credit alone reduced child poverty by 22 percent, the analysis found, compared with 5 percent a generation ago.

More caution on personal income tax repeal 
The state House Ways and Means Committee meets this week to talk about the possible repeal of Louisiana’s personal income tax. Rep. Richard Nelson wants the state government to operate without a revenue source that brings in $4.3 billion a year – or more than the annual state general fund appropriation for health care ($2.8 billion) and higher education ($1.25 billion) combined. A similar debate is playing out In Oklahoma, where public policy professor David Blatt explains what the repeal of the personal income tax would mean for the Sooner state. 

The reality is that Oklahoma is already in the bottom fifth of states for overall taxes. Partly because of meager revenue collections, we already struggle to pay our teachers, ensure affordable access to college, maintain decent roads and bridges, support our public health systems, and maintain law and order. Eliminating the income tax doesn’t get us closer to any of those goals or put us on a path to become a thriving state, one that provides opportunity and security for all our residents.

Revised early learning standards will benefit students 
The vast majority of brain development occurs before children turn 4 – yet families often lack necessary support during these crucial years. Last month, Louisiana’s top education board adopted new standards for early learning that provide a framework for helping children manage their emotions and maintain positive relationships with others. Tulane University’s Dr. Charles H. Zeanah, a pioneer in our understanding of early childhood development, explains in The Times-Picayune how the new standards’ emphasis on social and emotional learning will benefit students now and set them up for future success. 

The benefits don’t stop after children finish school; these skills will continue to serve children into adulthood when they enter the workforce. Many business executives across the country have noted that too many employees and job applicants lack the life skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. Business leaders recognize the vital role of early childhood programs in supporting these skills needed by adults as they enter the workforce. Children have one chance at childhood and one start to get it right. We all thank BESE members for helping early educators, caregivers and families make this time count for young children in our state.

Despite obstacles, internet coming to rural Louisiana 
Louisiana’s geography, poverty and politicians have long conspired to block broadband internet access for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. But the state is slated to receive approximately $1 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to close its massive broadband gap. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains, this extraordinary effort to completely connect the state via the internet was opposed by most of the state’s politicians. 

The Federal Communications Commission is identifying which addresses have access to high-speed internet and which do not. Those maps will be completed in November, and those findings will be inserted into a funding formula that also includes the cost of building the infrastructure. The formula was derived during Congressional negotiations over the 2,700-plus page legislation. Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, was in the room. He and U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, were the only members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation who voted for the measure, even though constituents of Higgins, Letlow and Johnson will receive the bulk of its largesse in Louisiana.

Last week Louisiana began using its allotment from the American Rescue Plan Act to extend broadband to rural areas, despite efforts by local cable monopolies to block the move. But as the Louisiana illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports, it appears some companies are backing down from the fight and will have fewer opportunities in the future to obstruct broadband expansion. 

Lawmakers have since amended the protest statute, so the new law as of Aug. 1 allows only for one protest period instead of two. Under the previous law, companies were allowed to protest a grant during the 60-day application period and in the seven-day period after the grants were awarded. Now, protests can only be filed during a single 30-day period after grants are awarded, [Division of Administration spokesperson Jacques] Berry said.

Number of the Day
59% – Percentage decrease of child poverty from 1993, largely stemming from expanded federal safety-net programs. (Source: Child Trends