Every morning, Monday through Friday, school children across the United States raise their voices in unison and pledge allegiance to America, with liberty and justice for all. America, in turn, pledges to these children and the world that it is a nation of liberty, justice, and laws. Laws drafted by representatives intended to follow through on America’s promise of liberty and justice for all. Yet for more than 16 million of these children and 30 million adults living in poverty in 2011, America does not deliver on its promise of justice. In a recent global study, America ranked 27th out of 31 countries in social justice. Social justice was evaluated by looking at six key factors: poverty prevention, access to education, labor market inclusion, social cohesion and non-discrimination, health, and “intergenerational justice." Prevention of poverty is a fundamental precondition for social justice. Under conditions of poverty, engagement in and access to basic education, labor, and health care services are demonstrably curtailed. The causes of poverty are numerous, interrelated, and complex. Nevertheless, poverty reflects the consequences of national policies in fundamental societal arenas including education, labor, immigration, welfare, and taxation.
This essay examines access to the most successful antipoverty program for working lower-income families with children, the earned income tax credit (EITC). At almost 40 years young, the EITC lifts more children out of poverty each year than any other program in America today. Nevertheless, because the EITC is a social benefit program delivered through the federal income tax system by the Internal Revenue Service, America's revenue collector, EITC beneficiaries bear meaningful access to tax justice costs. This essay discusses these costs and proposes specific opportunities to empower, rather than undermine this long-term, successful, bipartisan antipoverty tax provision.