Over the past decade, Texas has become one of the worst states to be a kid. Texas ranks 43rd in overall child well-being, with more than a quarter of Texas children, or 1.7 million kids, that are currently living in poverty.
However, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found that that number would have been much higher had it not been for federal and state poverty programs. According to the report, 1.2 million fewer Texas children are experiencing poverty thanks to state and federal poverty programs. That translates to 17 percentage points less than the Texas child poverty rate would have been without government programs.
The report cites the positive effects of “economic opportunity tools like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit [and]other bedrock programs like Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing subsidies” for alleviating poverty and improving families’ financial stability.
The report used the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to examine the effect of anti-poverty programs in Texas. This measure supplements the official poverty measure, which was created in the 1960s and is considered by many to be inaccurate and outdated in the way it estimates the level of family income needed to get by. The official measure also does not account for differences in the cost of living between different areas of the country.
Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, explained why using the SPM is crucial for evaluating poverty in the United States:
“The official poverty measure does not provide the accurate information policymakers need to measure the success of anti-poverty programs – nationally and at the state level. Relying on this tool alone prevents policymakers from gauging the effectiveness of government programs aimed at reducing child poverty. Given that child poverty costs our society an estimated $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings as well as health- and crime-related costs, the SPM is an important tool that should be used to assess state-level progress in fighting poverty.”
Because the SPM “is based on a modern family budget, adjusts for differences in cost of living and includes the benefits of major government programs,” it “provides a better understanding of what policies succeed in reducing poverty.” Using the SPM shows just how effective policy interventions have been for Texas children–without policy interventions, over one-third of Texas children would be living in poverty.
Jennifer Lee, Research Associate with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, explained what this data means for Texas lawmakers:
“These data confirm that Texas should invest in the programs and policies like food and housing aid that successfully fight poverty so that all children can achieve their full potential. Reducing barriers to Texans accessing critical programs and increasing child care subsidies are two important steps state leaders can take now to expand economic opportunity and reduce the experience of poverty for Texas kids.”
Yet, even though there is clear numerical data showing that federal and state programs have helped millions of Texas children out of poverty, that’s unfortunately no guarantee that Texas lawmakers will act. If the state’s meager existing programs have been able to reduce the child poverty rate by 17%, think about what increasing funding for state programs could mean for the 1.6 million Texas kids currently living in poverty. But sadly, the Republican legislature seems determined to continue slashing funding for the programs that help Texans the most, continuing to leave our most vulnerable children behind.