Published: 3/6/2022 7:30:47 AM
Modified: 3/6/2022 7:30:12 AM
The hardest thing about teaching is when your student carries the weight of the world into class with them.
I had one student who watched her mom be NARCAN’d five times in one year. Two other people died on her apartment floor. In that same community, I knew of families who lost their apartments and were couch surfing for a few weeks till they could save up and afford to get an apartment.
Now that I work in a more affluent district, the kids are harder to identify, but even here there are students desperate for a way to escape poverty. Whether we see them or not, these families’ lives were changed by the monthly Child Tax Credit in 2021. They were able to forget what it felt like to be hungry or to be embarrassed that they couldn’t afford basic school supplies. Now, these same families are slipping back into poverty, over 4 million children, because Congress failed to renew this extended program.
More than 11 million children live under the poverty line. They did not choose poverty, and they rarely make excuses because of it. Families want to find a way to a better life, but even with dedication, their situation can prevent them from finding the path.
The difference between an affluent and poor community is so stark that it is shocking. When I worked with students from a top 25 household income community, kids came to school healthy, tall and flourishing into adulthood.
Conversely, in a poverty-stricken community, kids were undernourished looking like they still belonged in middle school. These kids lack food, feel the stress of their parents, and know they are one bad week from being homeless. Yet we ask these children to contemplate the declaration of independence or do algebra. Here is the crazy thing, they do it because it is an escape from the pressures of adulthood bearing down on them from home.
What am I then asking of you? Support renewing the monthly Child Tax Credit to give these families some much-needed relief. Despite the unfortunate demise of the Build Back Better Act, there remains room for politicians, on both sides of the aisle, to come together on a compromise to reinstate the monthly CTC payments. It will allow parents to hire childcare to get out into the economy and work to provide more for their kids.
For others, it will give them a chance to stay home one extra night a week and help with homework. Parents can buy a bit more fresh produce from the perimeter of the supermarket so their kids can be healthier. Children can come to class on a full stomach without worrying about the fight their parents had about money that made their eyes red and minds mentally fatigued.
A 2021 survey by ParentsTogether shows that out of the parents who received the child tax credit 79% spent the money immediately, with the highest bracket being 48% going towards food, with utilities (45%), rent (29%) or child care costs (13%) right behind it.
Beyond concern for our children, the Child Tax Credit also makes economic sense. Poverty can cost cities more money indirectly; with an increased need for law enforcement and prisons in low-income areas that have high crime rates.
In the U.S. the annual cost of child poverty is over one trillion dollars. Additionally, it is estimated by social work researchers that every dollar spent combating childhood poverty would save our country seven dollars in managing its repercussions. There are preventable emergencies and less need for health services when parents are not driven to drugs or alcohol because of financial stressors.
Direct cash policies like the CTC provide hope for families by creating obtainable paths forward with fewer avenues restricted by cost. The American Economic Journal showed in a quasi-experimental study that $4,000 extra each year in poor households increased educational progress by one year at age 21, and reduced the rate of minor crime by 22% for 16 and 17-year-olds.
The Child Tax Credit will not give them wealth, but it gives them a path forward. It makes them feel that someone believes in their potential and their future. Students are far more successful in education when they think their teacher believes in them.
Imagine what would be possible if they knew our society showed that same belief? Members of Congress, invest in our next generation, a generation already with much against them, and renew the monthly Child Tax Credit and bring these families out of poverty.
(Dr. Karl Hubner of Hampstead is a researcher of socioeconomics and student outcomes and is a teacher in New Hampshire.)