America Should Be the Best Place to Raise a Child -- Not the Hardest

An asian woman bathing her baby in baby bathtub. They are looking each other.
An asian woman bathing her baby in baby bathtub. They are looking each other.

Every parent wants to give their child the chance to succeed. But amidst flat wages and rising costs, millions of families are struggling to put food on the table, put gas in the car, or make this month's rent.

Families with young children have borne the heaviest burden. Infants and toddlers are the poorest members of American society, with almost half living in low income families. And while families across the board have been facing a financial squeeze, child-related costs have skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, child-related costs represented nearly 70 percent of the rising costs associated with the pillars of middle-class economic security between 2000 and 2012. Young parents have been hit particularly hard.

Luckily, we have the power to change course. In March, House Democrats introduced the Young Child Tax Credit Act, a bill that would provide families with an additional $1,500 tax credit for each child under the age of 3 years old. This credit would give more parents an economic boost during a child's critical development years -- a time when parental incomes tend to be lower, costs of childrearing tend to be higher, and family income matters most for kids' long-term outcomes.

Study after study has shown the dire consequences poverty can have on a child's future. Children who grow up poor are more likely to drop out of school, experience health problems, become involved in the criminal justice system, and live adulthood in poverty.

Our children's future is our collective responsibility. But providing children with the resources they need to succeed is not just a moral obligation -- it is an economic imperative. Child poverty costs the U.S. economy an estimated $672 billion every year, almost 4 percent of GDP. On the flip side of the coin, research shows that boosting family incomes early in a child's life pays long-term dividends: for each additional $3,000 in annual income that a poor family receives during their child's early years, the child's annual earnings increase by 17 percent as an adult.

The evidence is clear: our economy is more competitive when every child is empowered to meet his or her full potential. And yet, the United States spends just 1.2 percent of GDP on family benefits, less than half of the average of other advanced economies. Other countries are doing far more to help working families -- and the results speak for themselves: among 35 industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks 34th in relative child poverty.

The Child Tax Credit was created in 1997 to help working families afford the expenses related to raising children. As we all know too well, the cost of child-rearing goes up every year. We have an obligation to do what we can to help households cope with these rising costs.

Together, the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit lift more children out of poverty than any other Federal policies. The Child Tax Credit alone is responsible for lifting approximately 3.1 million people out of poverty, including 1.7 million children, as reported by the U.S. Census Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Strengthening the Child Tax Credit is a critical investment in our country's future, and passing the Young Child Tax Credit will help support families with the youngest children at the time they need it most. But while Democrats are leading on this issue, some congressional Republicans are calling for more cuts to programs that support hardworking families. Earlier this year, the House GOP released a budget that would strip food assistance benefits for up to 10 million Americans and that could result in deep cuts to investments such as tax credits for working families, affordable housing, and education.

If that sounds familiar, it is because they do it every year -- just under different names. In 2015, it was titled a "Path to Prosperity;" this year, it is "A Stronger America." Lately, Republicans have even been stepping up their rhetoric on poverty, with Speaker Paul Ryan forming a poverty task force and even hosting a summit on poverty and opportunity for GOP presidential candidates earlier this year.

While progressives welcome a bipartisan commitment to cutting poverty, conservatives' rhetoric around poverty does not match the reality of their policies. Cutting benefits for working families does not lead to prosperity. Policies that push more children into poverty do not strengthen America. These failed policies are costing our country a fortune in lost potential -- and millions of children their future.

As parents and as policymakers, we cannot afford to let poverty determine the future of another generation of children. It is critical for policy to address this problem, and the Young Child Tax Credit is an important step in the right direction. It is time to give working families the economic security they deserve today and the chance for economic mobility tomorrow. Because America should be the best place to raise a child -- not the hardest.

Neera Tanden is the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Rosa DeLauro has represented Connecticut's 3rd Congressional District since 1991. She sits on the Appropriations Committee, and introduced the Young Child Tax Credit Act in March.