In 2021, when federal lawmakers cut child poverty rates in half, it wasn’t a magic trick. It was the result of a policy move, an expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which led to the largest drop in child poverty ever recorded. Lawmakers, it seemed, had found a viable solution: giving people money, no strings attached.
“That should’ve been the end of the story,” says Devon Gray, president of End Poverty in California. “It wasn’t.”
By 2022, after Congress refused to renew the enhanced Child Tax Credit — that broadened eligibility requirements, allowing more families to qualify and access income — the drastic reduction in rates had basically disappeared. According to new census data released in September, American children living in poverty reverted to pre-pandemic levels — from 5.2% to 12.4% — which analysts note as the largest spike in child poverty since the supplemental poverty measure was developed in 2009.
Of course, numbers can’t tell the whole story. Temporary pandemic assistance naturally led to a historic drop in poverty when introduced, and a massive upsurge when taken away. Beyond the data, these extreme fluctuations underscore differences in political priorities and values, often disproportionately impacting underserved populations like Black and Latino communities — particularly children —who are at higher risk of enduring long-term effects on health, education and earning due to poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.