The Child Tax Credit, Singed if Not Combusted

Nancy Folbre
9 January 2022

Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, oppose the child tax Credit on the grounds that mothers should be required to “work” in order to get assistance.

The smoldering heat originates mostly from the coal-fired wealth of Joe Manchin, the Senator from West Virginia who continues to oppose the child tax credit on the grounds that mothers should be required to “work” (meaning, earn money) in order to get assistance. Still, it’s pretty clear that this keystone of the Build Back Better act, this policy that dramatically reduced child poverty in 2021, has failed to mobilize a powerful constituency.

Ian Prasad Philbrick, writing in the New York Times Upshot, outlines some of the reasons why. Demographics are a major factor—older people, an increasingly large share of the electorate, don’t think they have much to gain. Philbrick suggests, with good reason, that many people dislike the notion that parents in general (and mothers in particular) might get “something for nothing.” Yet his otherwise careful reporting never challenges the notion that “work” should be defined as “paid work.” Like most journalists, he accepts the assumption that raising children is essentially a leisure activity that generates no benefits for society as a whole.

Contrast this with typical reporting on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), whose growth is celebrated as a marker of gains for everyone, despite its very uneven distribution. Joe Manchin’s purchase of his houseboat, the Almost Heaven, was counted in GDP, but my neighbors’ newborn was not, though over his childhood he may well cost as much.

And—here’s the most important point—little Hayes is a capital asset, with a good chance of growing up to become a productive contributor to the economy in general, and my Social Security and Medicare in particular. For more on this point, see this short riff in the New Yorker, “Congratulations on the Birth of Your Future Taxpayer.”

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