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Event Recap—Reducing Child Poverty in the United States

March 6, 2023
Economic Security & Inequality
A girl at a table

On March 1, 2023, The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution hosted an in-person and livestreamed event, “Reducing Child Poverty in the United States,” addressing the economic impacts of child poverty and proposing solutions to improve American childhood.  

The event coincided with the release of three new essays: one examining where the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) had the most significant impact, one making the case for in-kind nutrition benefits to children, and one proposing an enhanced partially refundable CTC. 

The event began with opening remarks from Hamilton Project Advisory Council member Roger Altman, President & CEO of Evercore, followed by a fireside chat between PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).  

Sen. Bennet emphasized the need to make the CTC as fully refundable as possible with bipartisan support from Congress. “It’s not enough for us to be just building an economy where the economy grows. We need an economy where people feel like they can move their families ahead,” Sen. Bennet told Nawaz. “My view is, in the meantime, we desperately need tax policies like the Child Tax Credit to bridge us into that future economy.”  

“It’s not enough for us to be just building an economy where the economy grows. We need an economy where people feel like they can move their families ahead.”

Sen. Michael Bennet

The chat was followed by a panel of experts addressing child poverty at the federal level, moderated by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach (Northwestern University).  

“Research shows that poverty can damage children’s health and educational attainment and limit their lifetime prospects, while income support can reduce child poverty and improve children’s health and educational attainment, leading to increases in earnings and other better outcomes in adulthood,” said Bob Greenstein (The Hamilton Project).  

Hamilton Project Director Wendy Edelberg outlined the CTC design that she and Melissa Kearney (Aspen Institute) proposed— “an efficient CTC design that responds to the three common concerns about the expansion,” based on changes in labor supply, the allocation of financial resources by parents, and the net fiscal costs of the tax credit. “Our proposal is estimated to actually increase parental employment, not decrease, because it begins to phase out at a lower income than the CTC under current law,” Edelberg said. “That also helps to moderate the total cost.”  

Panelists also discussed the importance of the CTC for organizations aiming to reduce child poverty and food insecurity. “Our job isn’t just to feed the line; it’s to shorten the line and ultimately to end the line,” said Vince Hall (Feeding America). “The emergency food assistance program is a critical tool to helping us to feed the line; programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are vitally important programs that help us to shorten the line… and programs like the Child Tax Credit expansion and refundability and the Earned Income Tax Credit help us to end the line, which is to help create a robust economy that works for everybody.”  

Hamilton Project Associate Director Lauren Bauer moderated the second roundtable discussion on state tools to reduce child poverty.  

“Everyone has to be involved in reducing child poverty. It’s at the local level, it’s at the state level, and it’s at the federal level—and all of those systems have to work together,” said Christine James-Brown (Child Welfare League of America). “There are contextual issues that have to be understood at the granular level if we’re able to move forward.”  

“Everyone has to be involved in reducing child poverty. It’s at the local level, it’s at the state level, and it’s at the federal level—and all of those systems have to work together.”

Christine James-Brown 

The panel ended with ideas for next steps on achieving policy goals to reduce child poverty. “Frankly, we should really have a hard look at housing and housing costs, and how that crowds out so many other investments,” said Bradley Hardy (Georgetown University), who co-authored a new essay examining the antipoverty effects of the expanded CTC by state. 

Hamilton Project Advisory Council member Eric Schwartz (76 West Holdings) summed up the panel, saying, “One thing we did learn in 2021 is that when the government steps up, and to some degree gets combined with private charity, we can solve this problem. We should just have the will to continue to do that.”