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Robert Reich: The Best Thing For American Children That Nobody’s Talking About – OpEd

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Among the most heartrending casualties in Ukraine are the children. So far, a million of them have fled the nation. Many are on their own, without parents or relatives to protect them. The 6 million who remain in Ukraine are in grave danger of being maimed or killed. Ukraine has accused Russia of bombing a children’s hospital.

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Of all the victims of war, children are the most innocent. If they survive, their physical and psychological injuries may last a lifetime.

Children are also the most innocent casualties of poverty.

I’ve been so fixated on Ukraine lately that I haven’t shared with you something important we’ve just learned about how to dramatically reduce child poverty here in the United States.

From July 15, 2021 to December 15, 2021, the United States conducted a remarkable experiment. It was called the expanded Child Tax Credit. It featured direct monthly payments to families of up to $300 per child under 6 and $250 per month for children between 6 and 17 – phasing out for families earning more than $112,000 a year. 

We didn’t think of it as an experiment. It was simply part of the American Rescue Plan designed to help Americans survive the pandemic. It turned out to be a real-world experiment because we now know what happened before, during, and after it. This has given us an astonishingly precise understanding of its effects.

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Before the experiment, America’s child poverty rate was among the highest of all advanced nations. Nearly 16 percent of our children under 5 were impoverished. 

During the experiment, child poverty in America dropped by roughly a third, down to 12 percent. The number of households with kids reporting not having enough to eat also fell by about a third. 

After the experiment, the rate of child poverty rose again, from 12 percent to 17 percent. More than a third of families with children in the U.S. now say they are struggling to cover ordinary costs (food, utilities, housing).

Naysayers predicted the payments would cause people not to work. That didn’t happen. In fact, researchers found that during these five months self-employment among lower-income families actually increased

Other naysayers said the cost of the program would be prohibitive. Not so. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit would cost $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years. That’s less than what America’s rich and big corporations will save over the next ten years from the Trump Republican tax cut, which went into effect in 2018. Repeal it, and there’s plenty of money to pay for our children.

Besides, the future cost to America of not reducing child poverty is astronomical, considering everything from social services to lost productivity.

So why did the experiment end? Because the votes of 60 senators were needed to extend it (the filibuster requires sixty votes even to get to an actual vote), and 50 Republican senators and two Democratic senators didn’t want to.

At this moment, millions of Ukrainian children are hungry or homeless. Tragically, there is very little we can do for them. At this moment, millions of American children are hungry or homeless. But we can alleviate their suffering. We now know how, because between July 15, 2021 and December 15, 2021 we conducted an experiment that worked. If we were a sane and decent society we would turn that experiment into the law of the land. We still can. Will we?

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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