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- Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the word only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation.
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847).
- [O]n my measure, if you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure. What else could you describe it as?
- There should be no place in a wealthy society like ours for children to grow up without their basic needs being met.
- One in five American children live in poverty, even as pundits tout employment highs.
- The plight of impoverished children anywhere should evoke sympathy, exemplifying as it does the suffering of the innocent and defenseless. Poverty among children in a wealthy country like the United States, however, should summon shame and outrage as well. Unlike poor countries (sometimes run by leaders more interested in lining their pockets than anything else), what excuse does the United States have for its striking levels of child poverty? After all, it has the world’s 10th highest per capita income at $62,795 and an unrivalled gross domestic product (GDP) of $21.3 trillion. Despite that, in 2020, an estimated 11.9 million American kids—16.2 percent of the total—live below the official poverty line, which is a paltry $25,701 for a family of four with two kids. Put another way, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, kids now constitute one-third of the 38.1 million Americans classified as poor and 70 percent of them have at least one working parent—so poverty can’t be chalked up to parental indolence.
- The conservative response to all this remains predictable: You can’t solve complex social problems like child poverty by throwing money at them. Besides, government antipoverty programs only foster dependence and create bloated bureaucracies without solving the problem. It matters little that the success of American social programs proves this claim to be flat-out false.
- Imagine, for a moment, this scenario: a 200-meter footrace in which the starting blocks of some competitors are placed 75 meters behind the others. Barring an Olympic-caliber runner, those who started way in front will naturally win. Now, think of that as an analogy for the predicament that American kids born in poverty face through no fault of their own. They may be smart and diligent, their parents may do their best to care for them, but they begin life with a huge handicap. As a start, the nutrition of poor children will generally be inferior to that of other kids. No surprise there, but here’s what’s not common knowledge: A childhood nutritional deficit matters for years afterwards, possibly for life. [...] Indeed, the process starts even earlier. Poor mothers may themselves have nutritional deficiencies that increase their risk of having babies with low birth weights. That, in turn, can have long-term effects on children’s health, what level of education they reach, and their future incomes since the quality of nutrition affects brain size, concentration, and cognitive capacity. It also increases the chances of having learning disabilities and experiencing mental health problems. Poor children are likely to be less healthy in other ways as well, for reasons that range from having a greater susceptibility to asthma to higher concentrations of lead in their blood. Moreover, poor families find it harder to get good health care. And add one more thing: in our zip-code-influenced public-school system, such children are likely to attend schools with far fewer resources than those in more affluent neighborhoods.
- Our national opioid problem also affects the well-being of children in a striking fashion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2008 and 2012, a third of women in their childbearing years filled opioid-based medication prescriptions in pharmacies and an estimated 14 percent–22 percent of them were pregnant. The result: an alarming increase in the number of babies exposed to opioids in utero and experiencing withdrawal symptoms at birth, which is also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, in medical lingo. [...] At this point, you won’t be surprised to learn that NAS and child poverty are connected. Prescription opioid use rates are much higher for women on Medicaid, who are more likely to be poor than those with private insurance. Moreover, the abuse of, and overdose deaths from, opioids (whether obtained through prescriptions or illegally) have been far more widespread among the poor.
- From the months before birth on, poverty diminishes opportunity, capacity, and agency and its consequences reach into adulthood. [...] Child poverty certainly does ensure a future-rigged society. The good news (though not in Donald Trump’s America): The race to a half-decent life (or better) doesn’t have to be rigged.
- Can children born into poverty defy the odds, realize their potential, and lead fulfilling lives? Conservatives will point to stories of people who cleared all the obstacles created by child poverty as proof that the real solution is hard work. But let’s be clear: Poor children shouldn’t have to find themselves on a tilted playing field from the first moments of their lives. Individual success stories aside, Americans raised in poor families do markedly less well compared to those from middle class or affluent homes—and it doesn’t matter whether you choose college attendance, employment rates, or future household income as your measure. And the longer they live in poverty the worse the odds that they’ll escape it in adulthood; for one thing, they’re far less likely to finish high school or attend college than their more fortunate peers. [...] Yet childhood circumstances can be (and have been) changed—and the sorts of government programs that conservatives love to savage have helped enormously in that process.
- Our own history and that of other wealthy countries show that child poverty is anything but an unalterable reality. The record also shows that changing it requires mobilizing funds of the sort now being wasted on ventures like America’s multitrillion-dollar forever wars.
- Programs that reduce child poverty help even in years when poor or near-poor parents gain and, of course, are critical in bad times, since sooner or later booming job markets also bust.
- 13 million children are hungry in America. Yet most politicians do not even talk about it. Children aren’t old enough to vote, nor old enough to work therefore they have no financial leverage. They’re not old enough to advocate for themselves. That’s our job. The political establishment has simply normalized the despair of millions of American children who are chronically traumatized by poverty, hunger, and all manner of violence. This is what happens when government becomes more an instrument of corporate profits then of conscience. The vulnerabilities, challenges and chronic trauma of millions of American children should be recognized as a social justice issue. An economic system with no particular use for children - or for older people - has left both groups underserved. This country shouldn’t be run like a business, it should be run like a family. First we should take care of our children & older people, making sure they have everything they need to thrive. Everything else would then heal itself from there. Moral repair precedes societal repair.