Permanently expand the child tax credit. It’s the pro-life thing to do.
Before we gear up for another grueling election season and become trapped behind partisan battle lines, and despite the ongoing chaos in our national government, now is the time to come together in support of a critical family-friendly policy: the expansion of the child tax credit.
In 2021, as part of the aid package responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress expanded the tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for those under age 6) and even made the full amount available to families with tax bills too low to take advantage of the usual credit. The results were swift and undeniable: The child poverty rate was cut almost in half from 2020 to 2021, going from 9.7 percent to 5.2 percent, and the Census Bureau estimated that the expanded tax credit lifted 5.3 million people, including 2.9 million children, out of poverty.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate (with the help of Democrat Joe Manchin, who reportedly worried that parents could not be trusted to spend the money wisely) let the expansion die in 2022. The result? The child poverty rate shot back up to 12.4 percent last year, and 19 million children in low-income families were again left ineligible for the full tax credit.
The child poverty rate shot back up to 12.4 percent last year, and 19 million children in low-income families were again left ineligible for the full tax credit.
Our Catholic faith requires us to prioritize policy-making that lifts up the poor and vulnerable, and the expanded child tax credit surely does that. That is why the Circle of Protection—a coalition of Christian leaders that includes Catholic, Episcopalian, evangelical, Quaker, mainline Protestant, and historically Black and Latino ministries—is urging Congress to take up this issue before the end of the year. All Christians who concur with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in designating abortion as the pre-eminent issue of our time should also join this effort wholeheartedly.
The links between poverty and abortion are well documented; the U.S.C.C.B. calls the relationship “a vicious cycle.” We know that poverty increases abortion rates, and restrictions on abortion run the risk of increasing child poverty if they are not accompanied by social support measures. Unfortunately, the pro-life movement has left itself open to the accusation that it is only pro-birth, and some pro-life elected officials seem oblivious to the ways their other policies can harm children and families. This has led NPR to conclude that the states with the strongest restrictions against abortion “do not have policies to support economic resilience or positive health and educational outcomes for families.” Further, since the number of abortions increased dramatically in states bordering those that banned or limited abortion, post-Dobbs abortion restrictions have so far not been followed by a measurable decline in the national abortion rate, but stronger social support for mothers and families could have a better result. In reducing the child poverty rate so dramatically, the temporary expansion of the child tax credit revealed a prime opportunity to show respect for life both before and after birth.
Jesus cared not only about giving life; he affirmed and offered abundant life (Jn 10:10). The expanded child tax credit is a clear example of a policy choice that can decrease poverty—and, it is reasonable to believe, also lower abortion rates—and will support women, children and families to live flourishing lives.
In reducing the child poverty rate so dramatically, the temporary expansion of the child tax credit revealed a prime opportunity to show respect for life both before and after birth.
The U.S.C.C.B. has urged Congress to expand the credit, and this is a critical step. But politicians who claim to be pro-life should advocate for the expansion as well, using the power of their supporters to move the discussion forward even in defiance of Republican Party leaders; the pro-life community must mobilize their advocacy network and urge their representatives to renew the expansion as soon as possible.
The main concern of opponents to the child tax credit seems to be about incentivizing “welfare dependency.” This criticism is associated with racist stereotypes, as the trope of the “welfare queen” and other myths have been linked to anti-Blackness and prejudice toward Black women in particular (despite the fact that most social safety net programs benefited only white people and excluded Black people for most of U.S. history). But data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows “that the expanded [child tax credit] did not have negative short-term employment effects that offset its documented reductions in poverty and hardship.” In other words, the motivation to work was not affected by the expanded tax credit. The money overwhelmingly went to food and other necessities, as evidenced by the fact that the expanded child tax credit also resulted in a reduction of food insecurity. Additionally, a guaranteed income credit is associated with a child’s ability to perform well in school and become a higher-earning adult, and with improvements in overall health and well-being.
It is important to remember, too, those 19 million children who are again ineligible for the credit—19 million children who are disproportionately children of color. As the Center for Budget and Priorities reports, “Due to historical and ongoing racial discrimination, many people of color are overrepresented in low-paid work and face more limited economic opportunities,” which causes them to be ineligible for the current child tax credit.
As Catholics, we are tasked with seeing the realities of our world and deciding how best to foster justice. Our faith calls us to seek out those who are marginalized and made vulnerable—even by policies we think are just—and to act in solidarity with them to mitigate the harm. The pro-life movement, which celebrated when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, must look again and realize that this legal win for the unborn does not wipe away all the hardships inflicted on children, women and families. Those who fought so hard to overturn Roe must not rest but instead work to ensure that more births do not mean more child poverty.
There is an opportunity now to have a real and lasting impact on building a culture of life, an opportunity to ensure that marginalized children—from those living in poverty and food insecurity to those who are still unborn—are given the resources to thrive in this country. I hope the pro-life movement will galvanize its substantial resources to make it happen.