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A pediatrician's view on child poverty rates: 'I need policymakers to do their job'

The child poverty rate in the U.S. more than doubled in a year.
Cavan Images
Getty Images/Cavan Images RF
The child poverty rate in the U.S. more than doubled in a year.

Child poverty in the U.S. has more than doubled in a year, and we have a pretty clear idea what drove it: Congress let the expanded child tax credit expire.

It's rare for a government policy to have an immediate and measurable impact on an individual or large portion of the population. But experts say the monthly payments to low-income families with children were doing just that.

After the expanded credit took effect, child poverty hit a historic low of 5.2% a year ago. New Census data shows it has since rocketed to 12.4%.

Doctors are seeing this play out in real time.

Who did we talk to? Pediatrician and researcher Megan Sandel, who treats kids at Boston Medical Center.

NPR spoke to her a couple of years ago while the monthly payments were still going out to families. Here's what she said at the time:

And here's what Sandel told All Things Considered's Ari Shapiro this week:

Want to learn more? Listen to the Consider This episode on how families are sliding back into poverty.

What's the context?

  • As All Things Considered reported, in 2021, Congress increased the amount of the child tax credit as part of the American Rescue Plan. It also expanded eligibility to include millions more low-income families.
  • Experts and parents reported measurable relief, but the move was temporary and wasn't renewed.
  • The recent rapid rise in child poverty coincided with other factors — like record inflation — but experts say the end of the expanded child tax credit was a key factor.

Experts say policy changes flow into the classroom.
Michael Loccisano / Getty Images
Getty Images
Experts say policy changes flow into the classroom.

What is Sandel seeing now?

Sandel says she is most concerned about stunted growth, weight loss and poor performance in school among the kids she treats.

Sandel does call out inflation and the rising cost of housing for adding an additional burden to already struggling families. But she says effective policy can help families navigate those factors.

How does this make her feel as a pediatrician?

Mostly, Sandel says she doesn't understand why the policy was allowed to expire.

So, what now?

  • Sandel says she is not ready to stop fighting for policies to help kids and families, adding that the new child poverty rates are a "wake-up call" for all involved: "I'd love to be able to come on in a year and be able to talk about that we got the number back down to 5% and beyond."
  • And as Ludden reports, the child poverty rates have also fueled political debate over bringing back an expanded child tax credit — although it's been at a stalemate in Congress.

Learn more:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.