In his speech to a joint session of Congress, President Biden detailed, in part, his American family plan. This represents a federal investment of $ 1.8 trillion in families, but more particularly in our children. If adopted, it has the potential to be transformative and, in simple terms, to do tremendous good.
But before I describe AFP’s impact on the lives of children in the future, please be indulgent when I describe the lives of American children in 2019 before the pandemic.
First, try to imagine that some 10 million children lived in poverty and that children of color and very young children were the poorest Americans.
In 2019, a family of four was considered poor if their annual income fell below $ 26,172 (less than $ 72 per day). And nearly half of all children living in poverty lived in extreme poverty, defined as a family of four with an annual income of $ 13,086. Some 3.6 million children under 6 lived in poverty in 2019, and it is these youngest Americans who are hit hardest during their greatest and most critical developmental years.
All of the above data is pre-pandemic. What the scourge of COVID-19 has gravely exposed is how unequal our economy was then and stands still.
In 2019, families were working to take care of their children; however, we have come to realize that our economy is not only unfair and unequal, but that it has left millions of children behind. And we did it knowing that investing in children and their healthy development not only helps the economy, but helps reduce racial disparities and increases opportunities for children.
According to an analysis by the Center on Poverty & Social Policy (CPSP) at the University of Colombia, since May 2020, as the coronavirus ravaged our country, eight million more Americans, including 2.5 million children, have fallen in poverty. Today, more than 4 in 10 children live in households that struggle to meet basic expenses, and between 7 and 11 million children live in households in which they are unable to eat enough because of costs.
The pandemic, as reported by the CPSP, made this year a rough year for American children, in large part due to the fact that their situation was already precarious. And it is this reality that forms the basis of the safety net proposed by Biden. This would make the child tax credit permanent, increasing it from $ 2,000 per child to $ 3,000 per child and $ 3,600 for children under 6, reducing child poverty by 45%. . For black children, that would be a reduction of 52% and for Native Americans 60%, and overall help some 65 million children.
AFP would offer free, quality pre-school care to all 3- and 4-year-olds, a necessary reform for working parents, and a reform that would allow women (the main caregivers) to re-enter the labor market. Preschool is a financial burden on countless working families today and can cost up to $ 10,000 per year per child. Child care centers would also receive funding to improve their services and increase wages to a minimum of $ 15 an hour for preschool program workers.
The pandemic has also revealed the importance of our public schools to low-income people and communities of color, as this is where children receive nutritious meals. AFP will invest $ 45 billion in children’s nutrition. As of 2019, some 29 million children received free and discounted meals during the school year, and this program will be expanded.
So the question now is, given this tremendous opportunity, are we going to build a bridge and not a pier for American children?
Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.