Published September 14, 2021
By making an expanded child tax credit available for one year to all but the wealthiest households, the Biden administration is aiming both to strike a major blow against child poverty and to create a political constituency to guarantee the benefit’s longevity.
Polling, however, finds the child benefits have lagged in popularity. A new YouGov/American Compass poll found that only 28 percent of voters said they preferred the expanded Child Tax Credit to be made permanent and go to “all families, regardless of whether they work to earn money.” This could be because of the credit’s slow rollout and the submerged nature of carrying out social policy through the tax code. But it could have more to do with the disconnect between policymakers in D.C. and working-class parents, particularly when it comes to family policy.
The biggest divide may be on the importance of work. For a new report, the Institute for Family Studies (a conservative think tank) and partner organizations hosted focus groups of white parents in southeastern Ohio, Black parents around Atlanta and Hispanic parents in the San Antonio area. We heard parents talk about work as a way of paying into the system, the price of admission for being eligible for government benefits like the expanded child tax credit. “Some people will be responsible with it,” said a Hispanic dad in Texas. “The other people will just live off of it.”
My ideal form of child benefit would look like the one proposed by Senator Mitt Romney this year, which would streamline the tangle of tax code provisions for families into one monthly benefit. But it’s clear from talking to working-class parents that they want something more from family policy than just a check. They want to feel that their benefits were earned. If politicians want expanded child benefits to stick, they need to listen to the families that will benefit most.
Patrick T. Brown (@PTBwrites) is a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He was a senior policy adviser to Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.