Three early takeaways from the new census data

September 12, 2023
by David Plasterer and Laura Labarre

The census is an essential tool in a democracy like ours, it’s how we answer some of our most fundamental questions. How many people are we, exactly? Where does everyone live? What are our identities? The U.S. Census aims to answer these questions, and the answers shape the very fabric of our society from how many members of Congress there are to where we build new schools to how the government distributes funds. It also shows many of us are grappling with poverty. Today, brand new census numbers came out, and while there is much more to learn, here are three immediate takeaways for those of us invested in the fight against poverty:

  1. Cash payments to families in poverty work — recipients know how to spend them. The pandemic-era relief packages were an unprecedented experiment in direct cash transfers to families. There was an expansion of the Child Tax Credit that included all families regardless of how low their incomes were. There were also emergency “stimulus checks” (i.e., cash given straight to families), enhanced unemployment, and other programs. While not surprising, we see that these funds empowered families to lift themselves out of poverty — they spent the funds on life essentials that improve stability and wellness like rent, food, utilities, school supplies, childcare, and more. For two straight years, U.S. poverty plummeted
  1. Ending cash payments sharply reversed progress against poverty, harming children the most. Today’s census data unveiled a disturbing reversal in the U.S. poverty rate. Not only did it stop shrinking — it shot up from about 7 percent to over 12 percent. Even more alarming, child poverty more than doubled from the record low of 5.2 percent in 2021 to an astronomical 12.4 percent. The data paint a picture of families who had the tools to improve their life circumstances suddenly jerked out of their hands, with children suffering the most. 
  1. Your advocacy on the tax code matters more than ever. Right now, RESULTS is working on the fall “Build the Buy-in” campaign. We’re focused on growing demand from our lawmakers and communities for policy changes in the tax code that empower families with these effective cash resources. The new census data are another widely respected tool for demonstrating the power of cash payments, which can be achieved through the tax code (like the expanded Child Tax Credit). You can use the data in your op-eds, letters to the editor, conversations with friends, and meetings with members of Congress about policies like an expanded Child Tax Credit or a Renter’s Tax Credit that provide direct cash payments. Learn more about Build the Buy-in campaign and RESULTS’ work on economic justice through the tax code

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