Dads, dollars will ease child poverty
By Jeffery M. Leving
We have 10.8 million impoverished children living in the U.S. The proposed expanded child tax credit is meant to cut this number in half. We must do even more.
This is important, because poverty does not magically end once these kids turn 18. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, poor children are more likely to have poor academic achievement, drop out of high school and later become unemployed, experience economic hardship and be involved in the criminal justice system. Children who experience poverty are also more likely to be poor at age 30 than children who never experience poverty.
The measures needed to lift children out of poverty are social and economic. They and their families need money, and these families need ways to prevent poverty in the first place.
As an attorney practicing family law, advocating for fathers and having written three books on the subject, I can tell you what I see among my clients and in my research on families’ needs and children’s needs. Having served as a member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee, I can assess the policy and political benefits of this program.
The №1 issue for me is the importance of fathers. I believe there is gender bias in our court systems and in society that assumes that when parents break up, the children should live with their mother, and the father is now a bad guy who must be kept away. When I tell people that just because a couple breaks up, the father shouldn’t have to break up with his children, it’s a revelation. They had never thought of it that way.
I co-authored the first real joint-custody law in Illinois 35 years ago; previously divorced dads would be awarded joint custody of their children only if the mother agreed.
This relates directly to poverty: According to the Census Bureau, half the children from father-absent homes are impoverished, while one in 10 children from homes with married parents are in poverty. I can’t keep parents married, but I can tell you that keeping divorced, separated and unmarried fathers involved in their children’s lives goes a long way toward limiting poverty among children.
Unfortunately, one-third of children now live without their dad, and I have no doubt that this is contributing to child poverty.
We have to stop putting fences between fathers and their children. I represent good men who love their children but can’t pay child support because they’re broke themselves, yet we have a structure that punishes them and pushes them away from their children.
I won’t forget attending an event at which brave men stepped to the microphone to tell how they were mistreated by the system. One man was a truck driver who lost his license for failing to pay child support, got a warehouse job farther away for $15 an hour (a significant pay cut, making it harder to pay child support), drove to this job without a license, got stopped by the cops and thrown in jail, consequently losing his job and leaving him unable to pay any child support.
Let’s stop banishing and punishing divorced, separated and unmarried fathers, whose involvement in their children’s lives is the very thing that will prevent or attenuate child poverty.
Second, the Earned Income Tax Credit is genius at lifting children from poverty — 4.7 million in 2018, according to the Census. But because the refundability is capped at $1,400, the poorest families don’t get the full potential benefit. Also, the funds come through once a year, at tax time, making the EITC an unstable source for month-to-month expenses, such as food, housing, clothing, school costs and the costs associated with extracurricular activities. The proposed distribution of a few hundred a month would help.
Politically, members of Congress who support this can campaign on supporting families and children. Opponents can campaign on wanting to take money away from struggling families, casting millions of kids into poverty. May the best message win.
When children are living in poverty, uplifting them is the responsibility of all of us. I urge Congress to pass this into law — and to make it permanent, not temporary. This is good social policy, good economics, good politics and a moral imperative.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd., and is an advocate for the rights and responsibilities of fathers. He is the author of Fathers’ Rights, Divorce Wars and How to be a Good Divorced Dad.