Three policies from 2021 stand out in particular for their outsized positive impact in solving for gender and racial inequities: the child tax credit; the forgiveness of some student loan debt; and guaranteed income pilots.
As we look ahead to what we can expect in 2022, it’s difficult to muster the excitement of a year ago when we had the optimism promised by a new president, our first-ever woman vice president, new leadership in the Senate and the rollout of vaccines we thought would bring back some semblance of the before times.
Needless to say, things did not work out according to plan—particularly for women who were already facing a million more lost jobs coming out of 2020 than men, shouldering an ever-increasing amount of household labor and still contending with a chronic wealth and income gap. Because this is America, things were notably worse for Black and Brown women. Like so much of the pandemic’s fallout, most of these inequities already existed to some degree long before COVID.
The difference is that now, we’re finally talking about how to solve them. In some notable areas, we actually made progress toward what should be everyone’s shared goal of creating an economy that works for all.
Here’s a look at some policies from 2021 that have an outsized positive impact in solving for gender and racial inequities:
The Expanded Child Tax Credit
Part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the child tax credit (CTC) gave nearly every parent in the U.S. up to $300 monthly for each child. Payments began in July and had no work requirements and no restrictions on how the money could be spent.
The CTC policy has had an outsized positive effect on women of color and their children, who are more likely to live in poverty due. New research from Columbia’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy found the policy “shored up family finances amidst the continuing crisis, reduced child poverty and food insufficiency, increased families’ ability to meet their basic needs, and has had no discernable negative effects on parental employment.”
The expanded CTC is expected to cut child poverty by 40 percent for the year it’s in effect, and an estimated 10 million children are anticipated to be pushed back into poverty if the credit is not extended.
The Build Back Better bill, currently stalled in Congress, would extend the CTC expansion another year. But Senator Joe Manchin has said he’ll oppose the policy’s inclusion in the bill, reportedly citing an unfounded dog-whistle fear of parents spending the money on drugs.
Forgiving Some Student Loans
The Biden administration discharged more than $12 billion in student loan debt in 2021. The massive burden of student loans is more heavily carried by women, who account for about two-thirds of the collective $1.7 trillion Americans owe for financing their education.
While Biden’s actions helped more than 600,000 borrowers, his efforts are far short of his campaign trail promise of forgiving at least $10,000 for each of the 44 million Americans who have student loans. This is an issue with major implications for racial justice, particularly as anti-Black policies have led to Black Americans financing more of their education, as they do not have the generational wealth of their peers.
Compounding the issue, research from the Insight Center’s “Still Running Up the Down Escalator” report finds that a college degree does not result in equal economic benefits by race, with Black households with a college degree holding $22,000 less wealth than white households without a high school diploma. Meanwhile, Black households with advanced degrees hold about half the wealth of white households with a Bachelor’s degree.
Guaranteed Income Pilots
2021 was the year of the guaranteed income pilot, with several dozen launching across the country. Guaranteed income—a monthly payment without restrictions that’s generally targeted to the poor and middle-class—has a long history in racial and gender justice movements, with the National Welfare Rights Organization’s Johnnie Tillmon calling for the establishment of one in Ms. 50 years ago to eliminate sexism from the social safety net.
Following in her footsteps, the Magnolia Mother’s Trust has been distributing $1,000 a month for one year since 2018 to groups of low-income Black mothers in Jackson, Miss. Results show the program is an overwhelming success, with recipients’ ability to pay their bills on time tripling, along with major increases in their ability to save for emergencies and afford food.
Stockton, Calif.’s SEED had similarly positive effects, with recipients seeing major improvements in their mental health, employment prospects and overall financial security. Implementing a targeted guaranteed income at the federal level, such as A Guaranteed Income for the 21st Century, would eliminate poverty in the U.S. overnight and help to close the gender and racial income gaps.
Are we a country that subsidizes the luxury lifestyles of the wealthy while putting struggling parents on wanted posters because they can’t afford diapers? Right now we are, yes. But we don’t have to be.
While 2021 was full of setbacks, it also provided a roadmap of where we need to go—and build—in 2022. Like a fresh new notebook full of potential, we can either fill it with meaningless doodles or instead draft our masterpiece.
To do the latter, we cannot allow our leaders to take a step backward or claim that policies that build equity are too costly. We are the richest country in the world, with a tired history of only questioning the cost of programs that primarily benefit marginalized groups (see recent bloated military spending bill passed without issue). We’re home to billionaires becoming trillionaires who shirk taxes and instead hoard their wealth to fund their childhood astronaut fantasies. To be clear, this is not a matter of affordability but one of priorities—are we a country that subsidizes the luxury lifestyles of the wealthy while putting struggling parents on wanted posters because they can’t afford diapers? Right now we are, yes. But we don’t have to be.
To bring the promise of progress from 2021 to life in 2022, we must be outspoken advocates for policies that are just and equitable. At its core that requires us to vote like our lives depend on it, because they do.