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Let’s Set a Goal & Let’s Get Started

By Megan Curran

December 8, 2010

In the seemingly relentless onslaught of bad news from the recession, here’s a headline you may have missed: in just ten years, 1999-2009, child poverty was reduced by more than 50%.

This great feat was accomplished through a combination of welfare to work programs, improved tax credits for families with children, and investments in children in areas including early childhood, primary and secondary education, and work-family policies.

Fantastic news, isn’t it? It is…for the children of the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately for children in America over the same time period, child poverty rose – and eventually reached its highest rate in 20 years. But how can this be when the steps taken to reduce child poverty in the UK sound so familiar?

This was the topic of discussion yesterday at the First Focus Congressional briefing: “Tackling Child Poverty & Improving Child Well-Being: Lessons from Britain”. The event featured a new paper on the topic by professor and author, Jane Waldfogel. Dr. Waldfogel spent the better part of a decade researching the child poverty reduction efforts in the UK and is now spreading a very important message back here in the US: that poverty is not intractable. And not only can we tackle poverty, but we already have many of the tools necessary to do so.

Dr. Waldfogel’s new paper, based on many of the findings in her recent book, Britain’s War on Poverty, identifies the policy, process, and politics behind the UK’s achievement. As mentioned above, the policy tools utilized are familiar enough (though her paper includes additional details on how certain expansions were made and targeted, particularly in terms of investments in children and increasing income for families with children). However, it was the process that truly set things apart.

In 1999, then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair declared war on child poverty and pledged that it would be eradicated within a generation. This target setting was exactly the impetus needed to mobilize both the government and the public. It raised the issue of child poverty, as well as the possibility and intention of tackling it, within the public consciousness and truly, the results speak for themselves.

So what can the US learn from this experience? We were very pleased to have a distinguished panel join Dr. Waldfogel at the event yesterday to give their thoughts on what a concerted child poverty reduction effort would look like in the US context. The discussion was inspiring and made clear the fact that we already have many of the building blocks in place for a similarly successful anti-poverty campaign in the US -- from recent improvements to key policies such as tax credits and food assistance, to the current work of goal-oriented poverty reduction coalitions such as Half in Ten.

If we can take anything away from the UK experience, it should be that we can turn the tide against rising child poverty in the US and we can do so fairly quickly. So what are we waiting for? Let’s set a goal and let’s get started.

For more information on reducing child poverty:

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