Ending Child Poverty is a Moral Imperative

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

COVID-19, the economic crisis and America’s racial reckoning have laid bare and exacerbated the brutal reality of millions of children living in poverty. Throughout COVID, we have witnessed the long lines of people seeking food for their families as hunger has worsened.

Even before the pandemic, 43 million Americans, including 12 million children, experienced an inability to afford adequate food, shelter or utilities. More than one in four households with children paid more than half of their annual income for housing.

For Black, Brown, and Indigenous families, the racial and ethnic disparities of poverty remain significant: 31% of Black children, 30% of American Indian children, 23% of Hispanic children and 17% of children of two or more races lived in poverty in 2019, compared with 10% of non-Hispanic White children.

Poverty impacts children’s long-term health and mental health, ability to learn, and even future earnings. Protecting children against the lifelong consequences of poverty improves their life outcomes and reduces the cycle of generational poverty, builds a stronger economy, and would reduce the nearly $700 billion our nation loses each year due to child poverty.

The path forward for ending child poverty is clear: make work pay a livable wage, support employment for those who can work, and expand safety net supports to meet children’s basic needs. Our nation can enact policies right now to reduce child poverty by at least 57%.

The new Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival, considers overcoming poverty a moral imperative and an urgent national priority. The Rev. William Barber II launched the campaign to demand federal and state living wage laws, investment and equity in education, protection of the right to vote, affordable high-quality health care, and an end to mass incarceration.

Stepping up its drive to force the U.S. Congress, and in particular the 50-50 Senate, to pass voting rights legislation, NPPC announced July 12 it would launch a month of Moral Mondays, featuring peaceful civil disobedience in D.C., and in state capitals, through Aug. 2.

Now is the time for action. Social workers can:

  • Help amplify the call to end child poverty so it cannot be ignored;
  • work with communities to engage poor families to document their needs and uplift efforts to address child poverty; and
  • urge members of Congress to enact legislation to end child poverty.

Congress can enact federal policy improvements right now to create:

  • A minimum standard of economic stability through an expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • more affordable health coverage;
  • enhanced paid family and medical leave;
  • assistance in paying for food and rent;
  • more affordable child care and broader pre-K education;
  • stronger nutrition programs;
  • more rental assistance; and
  • access to Medicaid expansion.

If we act now, 5.5 million children will be lifted out of poverty.

Contact Angelo McClain at naswceo@socialworkers.org

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