Child Poverty Should Be a National Outrage
Written by Bruce Lesley, Rev. Douglas Greenaway and John Bouman
Whether you have children or not, it’s easy to get caught up in back-to-school season at this time of year. We all feel a sense of purpose as children return to the classroom, confident that we are preparing them to be intelligent, thinking members of society, ready to find work when they graduate with a diploma or degree.
Our commitment to our children’s minds is in the right place, but our leaders are failing their bodies and even those very brains, too. When we don’t give children a healthy start in life — even from the womb — and sustain them through their physical and intellectual growing years, we might not see the effects right away, but we will surely pay for it more later.
Last week the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 17.5 percent of children were living in poverty in the United States in 2017. While this is a nominal decrease in the child poverty rate from the 18 percent in 2016, these numbers translate to 12.8 million children who are trying to thrive but face barriers at every stage of their development.
Child poverty is a solvable problem, though. Child development research shows that kids are healthier and earn more as adults when they benefit from resources at an early age. Access to proper nutrition, healthcare and early childhood education create a long-term positive impact on a child’s life, regardless of their family’s socioeconomic status.
Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and refundable tax credits lift millions of children out of poverty each year and help them break the cycle of generational poverty.
Yet the current Administration and Congressional leadership want to, or have already imposed funding cuts, set irrational time limits, required employment documentation, proposed to change the public charge rule, and created other unnecessary bureaucratic barriers on public assistance programs serving children. These barriers will make it hard to find and keep jobs, rather than promoting work for their parents, which will imperil children’s wellbeing.
These actions are being proposed in the name of promoting work and family economic security but will have the exact opposite effect by weakening these programs’ power to reduce child poverty. The result will be a generation of children whose physical, mental health, nutritional, and educational outcomes will be lower, undermining their potential to thrive.
The U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, a partnership of over 20 national organizations dedicated to cutting the U.S. child poverty rate in half within a decade, has been working to educate lawmakers that these actions are the wrong direction for our children and our nation’s future.
Members of the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group published Our Kids, Our Future: Solutions to Child Poverty in the U.S., a compendium of more than 20 policy solutions that can significantly reduce child poverty and support a better quality of life for all children.
These solutions build on what works, such as increasing family income through the creation of a national child allowance. Establishing a child allowance would ensure that all children live in households with enough resources to meet their basic needs and support their healthy development.
Other recommendations include increasing access to affordable and quality childcare and early childhood education, reducing the effect of poverty on student achievement through wraparound services at schools, retooling the federal homeless assistance system, creating a universal paid family-leave program, reducing the gender wage gap, addressing unique barriers faced by children of immigrants, supporting family asset building and more.
These policy goals are all attainable if there is political will. The U.S. Child Poverty Action Group urges the creation of a national target to cut child poverty in half within a decade. This would provide a tool for advocates, the media, and the public to hold the government accountable for implementing the most effective interventions to reduce child poverty.
Our nation’s economic future depends on the wellbeing of our nation’s children. In the coming decades, there will be far fewer workers to support our economy and replace those who are retiring. It is now more critical than ever to invest in our nation’s children because when all children are successful, all of us benefit.
Bruce Lesley is the President of First Focus, Rev. Douglas Greenaway is the President and CEO of the National WIC Association, and John Bouman is the President of Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.