Child Poverty

Work Requirements Would Undermine the CTC’s Impacts on Racial and Economic Justice

October 6, 2021 | National

In less than a week, the fourth Child Tax Credit (CTC)  payment will hit the bank accounts of families across the country. The CTC, which was expanded and turned into a monthly  payment as part of the COVID relief package enacted earlier this year, is wildly successful. It has boosted income security and  helped  families  afford meals, school supplies, diapers, and more. It’s also wildly popular.  A recent poll  showed that  nearly  four out of five parents  expressed support for the policy.  

That’s why it is disappointing to see politicians like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continue to demand that families who get the CTC be subjected to harsh and racist work requirements. Do some children in our society deserve to thrive while others don’t? Unfortunately, too often our politicians are completely disconnected  from the daily realities  of real families’ lives. But our families know  the truth: that raising children is work. Anyone who has raised a child can tell you that the work of parenthood is difficult, the hours are long, and the duties are non-negotiable.   

Not only is raising our children a job—it is our most important job. It’s also our collective responsibility. What could be more essential to our economy than bringing up the next generation of Americans to be bright and capable? What could be more critical to our future than giving our children lives full of joy, love, and security? This is important for all children, but most acutely for little ones under three experiencing rapid and critical brain development.  

Imposing work requirements on recipients of the CTC  willfully  misunderstands the role of family and caregivers in a child’s life. We also know that this policy would  only serve to harm the children who need support most.   

Demanding work as a prerequisite to accessing the most basic means of survival is rooted in our nation’s long history of racism  against Black families and can be traced directly back to slavery. When work requirements are imposed on life-saving programs like food stamps and cash assistance,  families of color, especially Black families,  are hurt most. And that’s not because people don’t want to work; it’s because they live in the states with the harshest policies, face employment discrimination, and are more likely to be penalized than white families for the same actions.  Put simply: the game is rigged.  

That’s why policies like the CTC that put economic power directly in the hands of families are so important, and so effective. The  expanded  CTC  kept 3.5 million children above the poverty line in August alone—disproportionately helping Black and Latino children. If we make this poverty-fighting program permanent, it will shrink racial disparities,  advance equity, boost income security, and finally give parents the freedom and flexibility to make choices that are best for their own family. That will not only help children get their basic needs met today but improve their long-term outcomes; additional income has been proven to benefit children’s educational achievement, employment, and health.   

The expanded CTC is an investment in our greatest resource: our children. It is a promise to every child in America that they are valued, that their potential is worth fostering, and that we want them to thrive. The goal of policies like the CTC  is not to force more hours of labor out of our families—it’s to give  them  the breathing room and basic security they need to do their most important work: raising our nation’s children.  What’s worse, a CTC work requirement would exacerbate racial disparities and limit the policy’s ability to fight povertyexactly the opposite of the program’s intended goals. We know that more than half of Black and Latino children were previously excluded from the CTC because their families did not make enough money to qualify, and re-imposing this racist policy could exclude millions of children of color and reverse the gains our nation has made thus far. 

 As Congress works through  the Build Back Better reconciliation package, the CTC should be  strengthened to reach every  child,  not weakened by cuts or undermined with work requirements.  And then we must make the expanded CTC permanent to ensure all our children, especially those whose families are systematically marginalized, can thrive.