COVID-19 and Child Poverty: How a Pandemic Showed Us We Have a Choice

Over the course of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of child poverty in the United States has fallen dramatically “from 14.2% in 2018 to less than 5.6% in 2021” with severe poverty cutting almost in half.[1] In fact, the 2020 child poverty rates in the United States were the lowest they have been since the 1960s when the US Census Bureau began measuring child poverty rates.[2]

The decrease in child poverty is due to the government’s expansion “of the social safety net,” including the “child tax credit and funding for food.”[3] The child tax credit alone decreased child poverty by approximately 40 percent after providing families with monthly checks to cover basic necessities.[4] In addition to the child tax credit, “other safety-net expansions” provided during the pandemic included “three stimulus checks, a moratorium on evictions, increased unemployment benefits and more funding for food, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing.”[5] According to research, if these safety-net options were not provided, approximately one out of three children in the United States “would be living in poverty.”[6]

However, experts warn that permitting these “measures to expire may” result in child poverty rates increasing once again.[7] The child tax credit already expired in January 2022, resulting in 3.7 million more children in poverty, “a 41% increase from December.”[8] Families who previously used the child tax credit to cover basic necessities are struggling to provide their families with “food, pay rent and keep the lights on,” especially because prices continue to rise.[9]

Not only is alleviating poverty the right thing to do, but there are also economic benefits for reducing the rate of child poverty.[10] In fact, the National Academy of Sciences found that “child poverty costs the US between $800bn and $1.1tn each year” due to “lost adult productivity and the increased cost of health and criminal justice spending.”[11]

The safety-net expansions implemented during the pandemic demonstrate how allowing children to remain in poverty is a choice and how we know some ways to end child poverty.[12] Now, it is time to implement policies to end child poverty once and for all.


[1] Melody Schreiber, Child poverty will rise if US withdraws COVID-era benefits, experts warn, Guardian (Mar. 17, 2022) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/17/us-child-poverty-rate-welfare-measures-expire-experts.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

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