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Child Poverty Doubled In 2022 After Key Pandemic Aid Expired


Nearly 5.5 million children were lifted out of poverty in the three years ending 2021, thanks mainly to the unprecedented cash support to households during the pandemic—and nearly that many fell into poverty in 2022 when that support expired.

Key Takeaways

  • A measure of child poverty doubled to 12.4% from 5.2% in 2022 after the expanded child tax credit and other pandemic-era government benefits expired.
  • The number of children living in poverty increased to 9 million from 3.8 million.
  • President Joe Biden has sought to revive the expanded credit, which gave families up to $3,600 per child, up from the usual $2,000 credit.

That’s according to data from the Census Bureau released Tuesday, which showed that the percentage of people under 18 living in poverty, as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) more than doubled to 12.4% from 5.2% in 2021. Put another way, 9 million children lived in households with income below the poverty line in 2022, up from 3.8 million in 2021.

The SPM defines poverty differently depending on a family’s housing situation, where they live, and family size. A couple and two children living in a rental unit are considered below the poverty line if their income is under $34,518 by the nationwide average.

The jump in child poverty—widely expected by researchers—was because of the expiration of pandemic-era benefits that went to a wide swath of the population, but made a bigger impact on the lives of the lowest-income families.

One of the biggest contributors was the expanded child tax credit. Congress raised the credit to a maximum of $3,600 per child from its usual level of $2,000, and for the first time made its full value available as a refundable credit that went to people who normally didn’t earn enough income to claim its full value. The expanded credit lifted 4 million children out of poverty in 2021, but after it reverted to $2,000 in 2022, it only lifted 1.4 million children above the poverty line.

“CHILD POVERTY IS A POLICY CHOICE,” Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “This is a disaster that didn’t have to happen.”

The end of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits also raised the SPM poverty rate, which, unlike the official poverty rate, takes things like taxes, government benefits, and child support into account when calculating whether families make enough money to support themselves. The SPM poverty rate for people of all ages was 12.4% in 2022, up from 7.8% in 2021, while the official poverty rate was 11.5%, slightly down from 11.6% in 2021.

President Joe Biden, who signed the child tax credit expansion into law in 2021 as part of his American Rescue Plan pandemic relief package, proposed reinstating it in his budget for the next fiscal year. He previously tried to have it extended as part of his “Build Back Better” spending package in 2021, but the bill didn’t have votes in the narrowly divided Senate to overcome opposition from Republicans and fellow Democrat Joe Manchin.

“The rise reported today in child poverty is no accident—it is the result of a deliberate policy choice congressional Republicans made to block help for families with children while advancing massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and largest corporations,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday. “No child should grow up in poverty, and I will continue to fight to restore the expanded Child Tax Credit to give tens of millions of families the tax relief and breathing room they deserve.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.