There’s nothing less festive than not knowing if you can keep the lights on
By Elizabeth Perry
Thanksgiving is the holiday when we’re all encouraged to take stock of ourselves and think about what we’re all truly thankful for.
During this most American of holidays, which celebrates great abundance, I think about all the times in my life when I experienced financial insecurity.
The prevailing cultural wisdom is if a person does all the “right” things, becoming impoverished can’t happen to them. Anyone who has lived through the recent pandemic knows that’s not the case at all.
So, this year, I am grateful to have recovered our financial footing and that right now my family is healthy. I wish the same for my neighbors, too.
I’m very thankful my husband and I are working again. Not to make light of it, but in my life, I’ve found there was nothing less festive than not knowing if I would be able to keep the lights on. The fear that gathered around me when I didn’t know if I could pay my bills has eased a bit, but when you’ve slid into a certain economic bracket and know you’re one bad illness away from losing everything you have, the fear and the shame never fully goes away.
In fact, it hurts to talk about it, and I feel the need to say we were never starving. Our kids had and have way, way too many toys.
I lost my job near the beginning of the pandemic, and my husband lost his toward the end. It was painful to be out of work, but I consoled myself with the fact that I was helping my family by teaching our two young kids.
When my husband lost his job, there was very little consolation. We have been through hard times before. Without getting too specific, we struggled with events nobody could have predicted – troubles that, I assure you, good planning and solid choices couldn’t have stopped.
We cleared out our savings twice before in order to keep afloat during those hard times. A lot of people aren’t even able to build up savings in advance of an emergency, so we were grateful then to have something to lose.
This recent bout of unemployment didn’t crush us, though, because of pandemic assistance. The child tax credit was a huge lifesaver – when my husband was working we put the money away and it was there when we needed that buffer.
Child poverty, calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure, fell to its lowest recorded level in 2021, declining 46% from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021, according to U.S. Census Bureau data – the expansion of anti-poverty measures during the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the well-being of many children. When the child tax credit measures expired, that fell back down again. The poverty rate for kids went up and 3.7 million more kids fell back below the poverty line.
As someone who directly benefited from this legislation, in my opinion, the child tax credit should have become permanent for working families below a certain economic threshold.
According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, “A roundup of the available research reveals that, while in place, the monthly Child Tax Credit payments buffered family finances amidst the continuing pandemic, increased families’ abilities to meet their basic needs, reduced child poverty and food insufficiency, and had no discernable negative effects on parental employment.”
Poverty gathers with it so many stereotypes. The poor are seen as the opposite of hard-working people, but often they’re one and the same.
Of the 37.2 million people living in poverty in the United States, more than 6 million are the working poor and 12 million are children.
The child tax credit didn’t give out money to parents – it simply took less from them.
In Sto-Rox, 27.5% of the population lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census, and of the 1,500 students attending Sto-Rox School District, all of them qualify for free or reduced lunches.
An extension of the child tax credit would directly benefit many of those kids.
Having that small financial buffer gave us a sense of control during a chaotic time in our lives. It was our money that we put away for that inevitable, unforeseen emergency. More parents deserve to make those kinds of choices.