Episode 1: Dr. Kathryn Edin, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, and Ashley Burnside, CLASP, Dig Into How The Child Tax Credit Helps Invisible Americans

We address the travesty of child poverty.

Our hosts, Jeff and Carol, introduce each other to our listeners.

This podcast is based on Jeff’s book, “Invisible Americans.” He is a prolific American economics writer.

Carol is an Emmy-winning journalist, activist, and author. She most recently was the president of the ERA Coalition, a group devoted to amending the Constitution to protect women.

Dr. Kathryn Edin, our first guest, on Poverty in America

Kathryn is the director of the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University. She co-authored “$2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America” with Luke Shaefer. This book was met with wide critical acclaim and listed as one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015.

Researching $2 A Day

Jeff asks how Kathryn began her work with Luke about the problem that she encountered in her research: nobody had cash anymore.

During her research in 2012-13, Dr. Edin had been following young people who grew up in public housing. After following these young people for more than a decade, she saw over and over again that some people had no stream of cash income.

None from work. None from TANF. Sometimes not even food stamps.

This was in stark contrast to the work she had done in her 20s before welfare reform, where she rarely encountered anyone without a source of cash income, be it welfare or wages.

Could it be that in the aftermath of welfare reform, a new form of poverty had emerged, and one so deep that we hadn't even thought to look for it?

In her work with Luke Schaefer, Dr. Edin traveled the country to meet with people living with virtually no cash income. They discovered that children in these situations suffered extreme physical and mental trauma, and they wrote about what they found in their book $2 a Day.

However, it’s not the first time America has been in this situation. In the 1890s, what was then known as outdoor relief faced staunch opposition. In many places, it was wiped out with the assumption that people would just figure it out. Dr. Edin urges us both as rational actors and decent, caring citizens to not repeat the mistakes of the 19th century.

Pandemic and Poverty

Dr. Edin talks about the unprecedented experiment that went on during the COVID-19 pandemic. The expanded Child Tax Credit greatly benefited poor households, but it was only for a limited time. As more pandemic-era supports are fading, many may turn to TANF. But Dr. Edin gives some startling statistics about how many people TANF actually serves.

  • In the late 1980s, 80-90% of poor families received relief.
  • In the mid 1990s, about 66% of poor families received relief.
  • Today, only about 20% of poor families receive relief.
  • Many states serve less than 10% of their poor families.
  • In Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, between 4% to 7% of poor families receive relief.

In reality, there is no cash welfare system in America anymore. But single mothers aren’t able to participate in the labor force in order to compensate. Even in the economy, it is difficult to manage to find or sustain full-time, full-year employment.

How to People Get By?

  • Selling SNAP benefits for $0.50 - $0.60 on the dollar
  • Selling blood plasma
  • Sex work, including child sex work
  • Collecting and selling scrap metal with an average return of $1 per hour

If you don't have a college degree, it is very difficult to get full-time full-year work in today's economy, partly because employers don't want to pay your insurance. Part time work is ubiquitous. And it's fragile.

What Can We Do?

  • Increase worker protections, especially in the low-wage labor market
  • Find a way to get more people full-time full-year work
  • Make a provision for families who are doing a service to society by raising children with something like the Child Tax Credit
  • Invest in our children to the highest degree

Our second guest, Ashley Burnside, on the Child Tax Credit and the 118th Congress

Ashley Burnside is a senior policy analyst with the income and work supports team at the Center for Law and Social Policy. She specializes in refundable tax credits, including the Child Tax Credit and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program.

She thinks that a Child Tax Credit bill won’t go anywhere in 2023, given the debt ceiling fight. However, she hopes that during this year, Republicans and Democrats will come to a consensus on why the Child Tax Credit is important and build out the nuts and bolts of what it will look like in the years ahead.

Work Requirements for the Child Tax Credit

One main area of contention around a Child Tax Credit is if the credit will have an earnings requirement or a work requirement. If it does, this would exclude the poorest families — those who are most in need — from the credit.

In 2021, the expanded Child Tax Credit was fully refundable, which meant that families with little to no earnings could access the credit. It was wildly effective at reducing child poverty in 2021. But currently, a child tax credit is only partially refundable, which eliminates many of the poorest families.

Despite these challenges, Ashley is hopeful and excited that President Biden is including the Child Tax Credit and other policies that support American families in his platform. President Biden voiced his policy hopes in his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, 2023.

Why Does America Fear Giving Poor People Money?

Whether it’s the false idea of a welfare queen or the assumption that parents won’t spend cash from the government on the “right things,” Ashley says there are “problematic stereotypes that are rooted in racism, rooted in classism, rooted in sexism, and they've been going on for generations.”

Just like Dr. Edin, Ashley discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and how programs rolled out during that time made a huge difference for families. Research showed that these policies were very popular and that the funds directly benefited children. Parents spent the money on bills, groceries, rent and mortgages, and activities for their children.

Jeff says, “Cash solves a lot of problems on its own. More cash.”

Ashley backs this up with statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic due to the expanded Child Tax Credit:

  • 1 million children under age 6 were lifted out of poverty
  • 1.9 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 were lifted out of poverty
  • Food insecurity rates decreased
  • Parents more easily afforded monthly expenses

Supporters of the Child Tax Credit in the 118th Congress

Carol makes note of senators and representatives in Washington who have pledged their support for the Child Tax Credit:

What Listeners Can Do

It’s not possible for everyone to be involved on the same level as our guests, but there are things that you can do to help get the Child Tax Credit passed into law. If you benefits from the Child Tax Credit in 2021, share your story. Tell your member of Congress. Tell the media. Write letters to editors of local news outlets. Explain to your friends and family why this is so important.

If you want to be a parent, you can still talk about the Child Tax Credit. How would it impact your life and your child’s life?

We should all want to live in a country that invests in children and families.

Don’t be afraid to look at state-level policies. At least 10 states have a state version of the Child Tax Credit. If your state is one of those, consider testifying at the hearings about the proposed Child Tax Credit. If your state doesn’t have a Child Tax Credit, urge your state officials to create one.

The Invisible Americans Episode 1 Transcript


Jeff Madrick, Ashley Burnside, Carol Jenkins, Dr. Kathryn Edin

Carol Jenkins 00:16

Hello, and thanks so much for joining The Invisible Americans podcast with Jeff Madrick and Carol Jenkins. We address the travesty of child poverty here.

Jeff Madrick 00:26

There are nearly 13 million children living in serious material deprivation in America, and we don't see them. They are our invisible Americans. And we plan to change that.

Carol Jenkins 00:40

A couple of words about us. The podcast is based on Jeff's book Invisible Americans: the Tragic Cost of Child Poverty. He's an economics writer, author of seven and co-author of another four books on the American economy.

Jeff Madrick 00:56

And Carol is an Emmy-winning journalist, activist, and author, most recently president of the ERA coalition, working to amend the Constitution to include women.

Carol Jenkins 01:08

And we are longtime colleagues and friends.

Jeff Madrick 01:18

Our first guest today is Dr. Kathryn Edin. Dr. Edin is one of the country's most respected researchers and writers on poverty. She is a professor of sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and director of its Center for Research on child wellbeing.

Carol Jenkins 01:37

Her book $2 A Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Schaffer was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in the New York Times 100 notable books of 2015, cited as a central reporting about the rise in destitute families. She is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. We talked with her about her surprising discovery of people in this country who were -- and some still are -- living on next to nothing. Thank you so much, Kathryn, for being with us today. I understand that you and Jeff Madrick have met before.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 02:23

We have! I was at the launch of his book in New York and was really pleased to be able to say a few words, along with David O’Hara’s book. So of course, you know, we've been back and forth by email and maybe even by phone, but that was a great event.

Carol Jenkins 02:43

Yeah, he's been bragging about it ever since!

Jeff Madrick 02:48

Well, I haven't been. I've been grateful ever since. I really appreciate your showing up to do that. That was great. So I think maybe we should begin by asking you how you came – you weren’t always partners with Luke Shaffer. You were always one of the foremost sociologists in the country about poor people, if not the foremost. And yet it seemed what you discovered over the years of interviewing people, is that suddenly the nature of poverty changed. Or it seemed almost suddenly. And now nobody -- and I exaggerate -- nobody had cash anymore. And that astounded you, I think. And you contacted Luke and decided, “Let's do a little homework and see if we can quantify.” What did you discover?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 03:42

You know, I've been doing these interviews in Baltimore in 2012. We've been following a sample of young people who have been born in public housing, but who'd gotten a voucher -- some of them had gotten a voucher to move out of public housing, some hadn't. And we've been following these young people for, you know, over a decade. And they were about 19, 20 when we came back in the summer of 2013 to talk to them. Very, very poor, disadvantaged group of people. And over and over again, we kept running into people with no stream of cash income, none from work, none from TANF -- what we call our welfare program today -- sometimes not even food stamps, although many did have food stamps.

And, you know, I had spent my 20s interviewing low-income single mothers, half of them welfare reliant and half wage reliant in the years before welfare reform. And there was really no one in this category that I ran into -- somebody without any source of cash income. So, you know, I've done all this work in my early 20s on welfare. The world had changed. I had gone on to study different topics.

So it just occurred to me: Could it be that in the aftermath of welfare reform, a new form of poverty had emerged, and one so deep that we hadn't even thought to look for it?

So it was at this moment that Luke Schaefer appeared in my office. I was teaching at Harvard at the time. He had arranged to be a visiting fellow at Harvard, and I'd arranged to sponsor him. But I'd forgotten. So when he showed up in my office, I was struggling to think of something to say. And so I told him the story about what I had been observing in the field. And he said, “Oh, I am just the—" you know, is this a thing? Or is this a one-off? You know, is there's just something odd that happened in my interviews in Baltimore?

So he says, “Oh, I have the algorithm all set up. I can tell you the answer to this question.” And if you know anything about Luke, you know he loves data. And he's one of the nation's experts on the best source of data to look at income, the Survey of Income and Program Participation. So he came back two days later, and we sat in the office just with our mouths open. He saw this just sharp rise in the number of families with children who had been interviewed by this very, very, very intensive, detailed 12-hour, you know, survey instrument, and they were reporting little or no case of cash income. You know, we call this extreme poverty, $2-a-day poverty in the book.

But it was a stunning find. And then, of course, we decide we had to see if this was real on the ground. And so we traveled across the country, meeting people who were living on this virtually no cash income and following them for many months and years.

Carol Jenkins 06:49

Kathryn, the beauty of the book consists the stories that you are able to tell, the picture you are able to paint to make it real. You know, here we talk about invisible Americans, and that you brought visibility in a real-time way to the people you were talking with, and in a very human way, too. And I think that your astonishment that here, you found all of these people with no cash in a capitalist society. And how exactly does this work out?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 07:22

Yeah, I was just reading, because I'm teaching a course on poverty, about the 1890s. And something like this happened back then, too, because there was just staunch opposition to what was called outdoor relief at the time. And so places like Brooklyn, New York, just wiped it out. The assumption was that people would just figure it out. But, of course, what we found in our book $2 A Day through these stories, is that the price families -- and especially children -- pay for living with virtually no cash income is unimaginable.

And we as a country, if we're simply rational actors and we want to prevent future costs, we should absolutely view doing something about this problem as a mandate. If we are decent, caring citizens, we should do this as a mandate. There is just no -- given what these children suffered, the extreme physical pervasions, trauma, mental health struggles that we documented in this book, there's just no way it is a reasonable strategy to repeat the mistake of the 1890s and do nothing.

Jeff Madrick 08:44

It’s pretty hard to argue that kids should be able to raise themselves. Yet we allow them to do that. Does it shock you still that so many people are willing to neglect our children?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 08:57

Yes. You know, in the debate over the Child Tax Credit, there was this concern -- you know, there's an age old pattern in American social policy, right, that we were terrified of producing dependence or, you know, the pauper class. And so in order to punish the adults into being self-sufficient, somehow, we don't think we should enable them to become self-sufficient. We think we must punish them by making the alternative of work so unimaginably bad that they'll avoid dependency. And the kids are, sort of, you know, maybe we care about them a little, but we’ll still concerned with punishing the adults.

Carol Jenkins 09:44

Kathryn, the difference between the book published in 2015 and 2023, what do you see? Is it worse?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 09:55

We had kind of an unprecedented experiment during the pandemic where poor households had for a brief time an expanded Child Tax Credit, the kind of thing that Jeffrey and I have been advocating for. And so we got it through for a brief period of time. And that was a monthly credit that went to parents of children. It was fairly substantial. They also received pandemic relief payments. And in fact, we saw hardship go down to unprecedented levels among families with children.

But, of course, all of that went away. And now we're going to see more pandemic-era supports fading. If you look at the TANF system, stable. You know, in the late 1980s, TANF served about 80 to 90% of poor families. They were touched by the TANF system in some way. Back then, we called it a different thing, AFDC. It’s now TANF.

Even later, in the mid-1990s, it touched about two thirds of all poor families with kids. Now that figure is about 20%. And in some states, it's in the single digits. In the state of Mississippi, last I looked, the TANF approval rate -- the poorest state in the nation, the poorest kids in the nation -- the TANF approval rate among those who applied was between 4 and 7%, depending on the year. Absolutely astonishing.

And in fact, it was that low TANF acceptance rate that led to the whole welfare scandal, where celebrities were taking TANF money. And people were just stealing millions of dollars from the TANF system. It finally came to light. Across the nation, TANF applicants are being rejected at unprecedented rates. Many states are only accepting applicants in the single digits.

So we really don't have, as Jeffery alluded to, we really don't have a cash welfare system in most places in the country. To argue that that that's meaningless is ludicrous. Labor force participation rates among single mothers have not improved enough to compensate. Those that can work full-time full-year, they can claim the EITC. They do okay. But many, even in this economy, cannot manage to find or sustain full-time full-year employment.

Jeff Madrick 12:37

How do these people that -- this is more or less your special expertise. How do they get along? How do the kids get along?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 12:47

there are a number of strategies people deploy for getting buy. Although selling SNAP we know is very rare in the nation as a whole, among the $2 poor, it's quite common.

Jeff Madrick 12:58

Selling SNAP, did you say?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 13:01

Selling snap. It's complicated to sell your SNAP because you actually have to accompany the person into the grocery store. You don't want to give someone your card, and then you wouldn't get it back when it was relocated.

Jeff Madrick 13:12

SNAP being food stamps, for people who are --

Dr. Kathryn Edin 13:15

But you only get about 60 cents on the dollar or even 50 cents on the dollar for that strategy. And that means your family's going to go very, very hungry. So Alva Mae Hicks, in the book, she does this routinely because she has no other cash income. And she needs to pay her utility bill to keep the lights on, to keep the heat on. And so her kids 10 days into the month have no food. And these kids are so incredibly hungry.

Tabitha, her daughter, just speaks so eloquently about what it feels like to just be so hungry. I asked her this question. And she said, “It feels like you want to be dead.” Just imagine a child feeling that they want to be dead because they’re just so hungry. She also ends up -- and this is another example of what people have to do to survive.

She's in the fifth grade. A teacher messages her on Facebook and says, “I've been watching you waiting for you to mature.” And then he offers her food if she'll come to his house and have sex with them. And she ends up stuffing her backpack with food and bringing it home to her little brother. This goes on for months until she finally breaks down and tells a teacher, who manages not only to get her out of the situation but to get her into a private school in Memphis.

Carol Jenkins 14:51

Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Also selling of blood plasma.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 14:56

Blood plasma has been -- almost everyone we talked to had a little divot on the inside of their elbow from selling plasma. Jessica, one of our respondents from Appalachia, you know, she's just this tiny little woman. And she weighs one pound more than the legal limit that you have to weigh in order to give plasma. This is the only source of cash income for this family. And she comes back debilitated.

She eats protein bars that actually the plasma clinic provides in order to pass the various blood tests to show that she's fit to donate.

Other people, you know, for about $1 an hour --This is both Paul and Jennifer Hernandez -- pick up scrap metal and tin cans, rifle through garbage cans. These are people who are parents of children that are scouring the neighborhood garbage and alleys for tin cans and old air conditioners, anything they can sell at the local scrap, you know, the local scrap market.

Carol Jenkins 16:05

So, Kathryn, you say this whole idea -- as many people, as Jeff often says, you know, people say, “Why don't they just get a job? Why don't they just go to work?” Many of these people did that, tried that.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 16:19

Yeah. If you don't have a college degree, it is very difficult to get full-time full-year work in today's economy, partly because employers don't want to pay your insurance. Part time work is ubiquitous. And it's fragile.

Jeff Madrick 16:33

So what do we do about this, Kathryn? Is it better jobs? Is it the  Child Tax Credit? Is it all of these things?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 16:42

We know for more and more Americans that work doesn't work. So, clearly, finding a way to get more people into full-time full-year employment is really important. But, you know, a lot of those low wage jobs don't have give. We all, especially as parents and as daughters and sons of aging parents, we need some given our jobs.

So worker protections are really important. But the low-wage labor market is really broken. So that needs some serious attention. We can't assume -- it's always been a myth in the United States welfare state that anybody who wants a job can get one. That's never been true, even in the tightest economy, especially stable full-time full-year work.

So we have to make a provision for families who are doing a valuable service to society. And that is raising the next generation young people who will be the workers who will pay for our retirement. We're taking the short view rather than the long view. And we're not investing in our children nearly to the degree that we need to be.

So something like the Child Tax Credit is really a genius program because all parents, virtually all parents, need the help. Those are times in one's life when you're not at your prime earning capacity. You're in your 20s. Almost everyone struggles to make ends meet when they have younger kids. And it's a great time to say to those families, “Thank you. We support you.”

Similarly, with the expanded Child Tax Credit, we saw parents spending money in ways that benefited kids and not on alcohol and drugs.

Carol Jenkins 18:34

Right, exactly. Exactly. Would you go so far as to say that there should be a universal floor, universal support cash?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 18:46

Yes. I mean, I like the  Child Tax Credit because it sends a message that child-rearing is valuable. Unconditional cash transfers for all Americans. Sure. That would be nice. I'm not sure we can afford it. It's extraordinarily expensive. And we would have to make some really fundamental tradeoffs that we we'd have to think hard about.

But certainly, for parents raising kids, they've earned it. And I think that's a message Americans can -- would be receptive to. We were so close. But Joe Manchin thought his constituents and spend the money on drugs.

Jeff Madrick 19:23

Or coal.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 19:25

Yeah, coal.

Carol Jenkins 19:27

Yes. I think you and Jeff agree on that. And in terms of this next Congress, the one that we're in, the 118th, any progress? I know everyone is still fighting like mad to make sure that it gets reinstated. Are you optimistic about that?

Dr. Kathryn Edin 19:43

We might have to wait a couple of years.

Carol Jenkins 19:45

That's a long time to be hungry for these children.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 19:48

It's a long time to be hungry. Yeah.

Jeff Madrick 19:51

Well, you've been great, Kathryn.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 19:52

Such a delight to talk with both of you. So nice to meet you, Carol, and to see you again, Jeffrey. And I wish you luck with this podcast. You're doing God's work in keeping this issue front and center. And, you know, I'm really hopeful that we can focus new energy and new creativity on both the jobs end and the safety net end.

Carol Jenkins 20:16

Thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Kathryn Edin 20:18

My pleasure.

Carol Jenkins 20:28

On February 7, in his State of the Union address before Congress, President Joe Biden highlighted several family-related goals: paid family leave, childcare, universal pre-K, college education, affordable housing, and renewal of the 2021 expanded Child Tax Credit that awarded monthly cash payments, was available to all families, and cut child poverty in half. But it lapsed.

Jeff Madrick 20:57

With us now to give us a preview of the Child Tax Credit and the 118th session of Congress is Ashley Burnside. She's a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, otherwise known as CLASP. The organization's mission is reducing poverty, promoting economic security, and advancing racial equity.

Ashley, thanks a lot for joining us.

Ashley Burnside 21:25

Yeah, thank you for having me.

Jeff Madrick 21:27

As an advocate of Child Tax Credit, at least since 2015, I was pretty excited when it passed, and then poof. What's going to happen next? Given you wrote a very clear piece about why Congress let it go in the first place, is there a future for the CTC?

Ashley Burnside 21:48

I think that this year, given the tight margins in Congress, I don't foresee a  Child Tax Credit bill going anywhere this year. I think that the debt ceiling fight’s going to really take up a lot of the airtime. But I do know that there are some big Child Tax Credit champions in Congress, like Representative DeLauro, Senators Brown and Booker and Bennett. And they are planning on reintroducing their bills that would implement a Child Tax Credit expansion this year. But I don't foresee those bills moving this year.

Hopefully, this year can be a time where we can have Republicans and Democrats come to the table and build some consensus around why this policy is important. And try to build around some nuts and bolts of what a  Child Tax Credit policy could look like in the years ahead. So I do think that there's a future to it, but maybe not as quickly as we'd like to see,

Jeff Madrick 22:38

Apparently, the Republicans are coming aboard. Well, a handful of Republicans are coming aboard, which I didn't expect. How important will their contribution be?

Ashley Burnside 22:49

I think it's great that there are Republicans coming on board. And ideally, I'd love to see every member of Congress. So it only can help that we're seeing members like Senator Romney introducing their own bills. And, of course, there are key differences in the bills that Republicans are proposing versus Democrats, and there still are only a handful of Republicans right now.

But hopefully having both sides coming to the table supporting aspects of this policy can help us get to a place where we can come to a consensus that our nation should be investing in a child benefit for families with children and that this is an important policy lever to reduce child poverty.

Carol Jenkins 23:28

Ashley, talk to us about the things that – we’ll phrase it as Democratic/Republican, you know, approaches to this: one is the cash payment directly to families, and the other is who's eligible for it. And it somehow doesn't make sense that the poorest, in many instances, would not be eligible for it. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Ashley Burnside 23:49

The key component there is whether or not the Child Tax Credit has an earnings requirements are a work requirement that allows families to be eligible. When Congress temporarily expanded the  Child Tax Credit in 2021, they made it fully refundable, which means that families who have little to no earnings could access the credit. And this allowed the credit to reach families who have very low incomes. And that was part of what made it so effective at reducing child poverty and 2021.

But under current law, the credit is only partially refundable. So families have to make a certain amount in earnings to be eligible to receive the Child Tax Credit. And that means that if you have $0 in earnings, you're not eligible for a credit at all. And there definitely has been tension between members of Congress over whether or not a future Child Tax Credit should be fully refundable and whether there should be work requirements in place for parents to access the credit. And the conversation does have really huge implications for whether or not this policy will be able to effectively address child poverty and whether it will really be targeted at the families with the lowest incomes.

Carol Jenkins 24:59

Watching President Biden actually include it in his State of the Union address was so exciting for me. I don't know. I just felt, you know, he said the words, “paid leave, childcare, pre-K.” I mean, housing, other things, as well. But the fact that he is fully supportive of the Child Tax Credit, what difference does that make to people like you working in the field for this?

Ashley Burnside 25:24

Yes, I definitely felt excited when I heard the words come out of his mouth during the State of the Union. I think it's really important to know that the White House also sees the potential in this policy and feels that it's important to include in their policy platform. To me, the State of the Union was really Biden setting his vision for what he wants to see in America for families, for children. So for the expanded Child Tax Credit to be a part of that vision was really uplifting for me. And I also was excited to hear about the other policies he was talking about that would support families, which he listed a lot of really important things.

Jeff Madrick 26:01

Where do you think this fear of giving poor people cash comes from? Is this part of the national character of America? I guess I would argue it certainly has been for some time. Why do you think it's changed to some degree now?

Ashley Burnside 26:15

It's an important question that could really cover a span of decades of policy about poverty in America. I think that unfortunately, for a long time, lawmakers and media and Americans have felt that cash programs going to families is going towards what's called the welfare queen. It's rooted in this racist assumption about families living in poverty who are deserving versus not deserving of support.

And there's often been a patriarchal assumption about whether parents should be receiving cash from the government, whether they know how to spend cash, whether cash are going towards “right things.” And these are problematic stereotypes that are rooted in racism, rooted in classism, rooted in sexism, and they've been going on for generations.

And I do think that the pandemic really showed us that, unfortunately, most families in America are only one financial emergency away from being in poverty or from being in a financial shock that could spiral them into circumstances out of their control. One broken car or one missed utility bill could put a family into poverty.

And a lot of Americans were in a situation where they needed support from the government. The stimulus payments, the expanded unemployment insurance, those programs made a huge difference for families and were really a lifeline for people. And it provided a window where lawmakers could implement this temporary expansion to the Child Tax Credit and show parents what it's like to have the government investing in you as you're raising your children, what it could feel like to have this reoccurring monthly payment that you could rely on and budget around to support your children.

The policy from the polls that I've seen, from the research that I've read was very popular among parents. It made them feel like the government cared about them and supported them. It was policy that people really resonated with. And I think it really changed the scope of how people view government programs and investments for families.

I hope that even as we leave this phase of the public health crisis and the pandemic that families still see the urgency of pass passing policies like the Child Tax Credit. It's something that we should be investing in even when we're not in a public health emergency or recession.

Jeff Madrick 28:38

There is substantial evidence that people do spend for the kids’ needs, not for themselves.

Ashley Burnside 28:45

Yes, there's a lot of research that found that. The most common ways parents reported spending those monthly payments was towards bills, towards food and groceries, towards rent and mortgage payments, towards activities for their children. And there really was no evidence that parents were spending it towards things like alcohol or substances. It really was going towards the needs of children and towards monthly bills.

Carol Jenkins 29:07

So, Ashley, looking forward to the 118th Congress these next two years: you have your champions in the Senate: Senators Brown, Booker, and Bennett. And you have your champions in the House: DeLauro, DelBene, and Ritchie Torres. What can our listeners do to help push that along? What can the average citizen who's not engaged on a day-to-day basis as you are in the policy to help move this along?

Ashley Burnside 29:37

I think the biggest thing that listeners can do is share their story. If you received the Child Tax Credit in 2021 and it helped you, it helped you raise your kids, it helped you make ends meet, sharing that story with your member of Congress, with the media, through letters to the editor -- that helps explain the urgency of why this policy is so important for everyday people. And just talking to your friends and family about the policy and why it's important.

And even if you're not a parent but you one day hope to be, talking about how this policy would help you on your journey to being a parent, why you want to live in a country that invests in children and families. I’ll also note that there's opportunities at the state level to pass state Child Tax Credit policies. There are already about 10 states that have a state version of the Child Tax Credit. And there's been a lot of states that have been proposing state CTCs this year, including some red states. So if you live in a state that's also proposing a state version of the credit, consider testifying at your state level, as well, and talking about how this policy could support you at the state and federal level.

Jeff Madrick 30:41

In my book, I wrote a chapter called Cash matters, Money matters, which the anti-poverty policy people always argue is not the case. I think it sounds counterintuitive to people. But that's an issue or a theme that I would like to push much harder. Cash solves a lot of problems on its own, more cash.

Ashley Burnside 31:08

Yes. And I think that we learned a lot of things from the temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit, but that really summarizes the biggest takeaway. Providing cash to families is effective policy. It really works. One million children were lifted out of poverty under the age of six in 2021 because of the expanded Child Tax Credit. One point nine million children between the ages of six and 17. We also saw that food insecurity rates went down for families with children. Financial stress went down for parents. Parents reported that they were more easily able to afford monthly expenses. And that was just when the program was in place for six months.

Imagine what it would look like for our families and communities if we invested in this policy permanently. There's so much research that shows that when you provide a household with cash while a child is at their earliest stages of childhood development that has positive impacts for that child's health, for their education outcomes when they go to school, and even for their earnings as adults. So if you're really investing that cash into families from a young age, it has huge positive ramifications for the child and the parents.

Jeff Madrick 32:17

No argument here.

Ashley Burnside 32:20

Like you said, it sounds counterintuitive, but it's something you have to keep repeating.

Carol Jenkins 32:24

Ashley, thank you so much. I hope you'll come back and talk with us again. It's been very helpful.

Ashley Burnside 32:30

Thank you for having me. I'm excited to hear more from your podcast and to contribute. Thank you.

Jeff Madrick 32:44

History will judge the nation's decency in various ways. One of them will surely be the well-being of all its children. American neglect of its poor children is both inexplicable and deplorable. By basic measures, it has the highest child poverty rate among rich nations in the world. A generation of careful academic research has shown how damaging this has been to children's cognition, health, nutrition, and future wages. In 2021, Congress and the president adopted an enlightened program that expanded the Child Tax Credit and made it available to almost all children no matter their race, ethnicity, or how little their parents earn.

The results were stunning, cutting the poverty rate by half. Congress refused to renew the program. In coming months, this podcast will examine the future of the Child Tax Credit and other key policies to protect children from the destructiveness of poverty. We are dedicated to restoring a bright and optimistic future for all children in this land along celebrated for equal opportunity. Our thanks to Princeton professor Dr. Kathryn Edin, author of $2 a Day: Living on Next to Nothing in America, and to Ashley Burnside of the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Carol Jenkins 34:17

To learn more about erasing child poverty in America, go to our website, www.theinvisibleamericans.com.

Jeff and I will see you here the next time on The Invisible Americans podcast.

Dr. Kathryn Edin

Director, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing; William Church Osborn Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University; PI, Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study; Co-Director, Joint Degree Program in Social Policy

Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family life, and neighborhood contexts, through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work: How do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work? Why do they end up as single mothers in the first place? Where are the fathers and why do they disengage from their children’s lives? How have the lives of the single mothers changed as a result of welfare reform? The hallmark of her research is her direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women, men, and children.

Edin has authored 8 books and some 60 journal articles. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Shaefer, was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.” Her most recent book, The Injustice of Place: The Legacy of Poverty in America, will be published in August 2023.

Edin is a Trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation, was a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Network on Housing and Families with Young Children and was a past member of the MacArthur Network on the Family and the Economy.  In 2014, she was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. She was elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance in 2017 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019.

Edin received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from North Park University and a Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. She has previously taught at Rutgers University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University.

Ashley Burnside


Policy expertise:

Adult and Postsecondary Education

Income and Work Supports

Refundable Tax Credits


Ashley Burnside is a senior policy analyst with the income and work supports team at CLASP. She specializes in refundable tax credits, including the Child Tax Credit, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program. She also focuses on disability policy issues and increasing access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for college students with low incomes who face barriers to accessing higher education. She has been quoted in numerous media outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, Bloomberg, CNBC, Marketplace with NPR, and CBS.

Prior to joining CLASP, Ashley was a research assistant on the family income support team at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities where she focused on TANF. In this role, Ashley helped write annual papers, provided state-specific resources to partners, managed communications efforts for the team, and helped plan a TANF advocate’s conference. Ashley also was a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center. As a Hunger Fellow, she worked at a local food pantry in Denver, Colorado where she registered food pantry clients to vote and at RESULTS in Washington, D.C. where she researched refundable tax credits and the racial wealth gap. Ashley also was a Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow at AIDS United and has worked in LGBTQ advocacy previously.

Ashley received her bachelor of arts degree in social theory and practice from the University of Michigan and wrote an honors thesis on the LGBTQ rights movement. She graduated magna cum laude and was a Point Foundation Scholar.