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In many ways, Philadelphia’s economic landscape has moved in a positive direction in recent years. Job creation is up. Home sales are up. Unemployment is down. But this fact remains: Philadelphia is still the poorest big city in the nation. In fact, in recent years while the median household income in every other big city rose, Philadelphia was the only city where it declined.
That is staggering.
A family with a working parent should not have to raise children in poverty in Pennsylvania. There is a lot of work to be done to uplift impoverished communities across the Commonwealth — particularly in Philadelphia. But, there are resources that are available now, starting with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
In 2018, the EITC and the child tax credit lifted 9.4 million people out of poverty, including 5 million children. By promoting and encouraging work, the EITC boosts employment and earnings for low- and moderate-income families.
This tax season, I urge all low- and moderate-income Philadelphians to see if you are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC has been proven to be the single, most effective antipoverty program available to working-age families. It puts money that you have earned back in your pocket — where it belongs. On average, the EITC refunds $2,500 to eligible families, but some families can get back a maximum of more than $6,000.
Nationwide, 20 percent of eligible families don’t even apply to receive the EITC — leaving billions on the table. In Philadelphia alone, 50,000 eligible families missed out on $131 million last year. Even if you didn’t claim the tax credit that you earned in the last three years, it is not too late. You can still amend your return and possibly get back thousands of dollars this tax season.
Every single family that qualifies for the EITC should apply and get the money that you’ve earned.
The city of Philadelphia is offering free tax-preparation all over the city, until the end of April. To learn more, calculate your EITC, or find a free tax-prep site, visit or https://www.youearneditphilly.com/.
One out of every four Philadelphians you pass — on your way to work, to church, to the grocery store — is living below the federal poverty line, bringing in less than $25,000 in income this year. Half of those folks are living in deep poverty, with less than $12,000 in income. The reality is even worse in communities of color, with poverty rates exceeding 60 percent in some neighborhoods.
These are families that struggle to put food on the table, keep the lights on in the house, and save for a secure retirement. Often, poverty is inherited, passed down from generation to generation, each unable to break the cycle.
As Pennsylvania’s treasurer, I often say that the financial health of Pennsylvania is only as good as the financial health of the Pennsylvanians who live and work here. We call ourselves a commonwealth, a reminder that we, altogether, rise or fall together.
The EITC is a powerful tool that provides cash to families who need it most, but it is only one tool. As a state, we need to have a bold conversation about our commitment to bolster impoverished communities. Because, when we have chronically poor communities barely getting by, year after year, while the very wealthy continue to get wealthier, that conversation is long overdue.