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Childhood Poverty at “Obscene Levels”

January 28, 2015

Charles Blow’s NYTimes column today deals with childhood poverty, a topic that has been the subject of scores of posts on this blog. Drawing statistics and quotes from “Ending Child Poverty Now”, a recently released report from the Childhood Defense Fund, Blow calls on us to reduce the “obscene level of childhood  poverty”. He writes:

People may disagree about the choices parents make — including premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births. People may disagree about access to methods of family planning — including contraception and abortion. People may disagree about the size and role of government — including the role of safety-net programs.

But surely we can all agree that no child, once born, should suffer through poverty. Surely we can all agree that working to end child poverty — or at least severely reduce it — is a moral obligation of a civilized society.

And yet, 14.7 million children in this country are poor, and 6.5 million of them are extremely poor (living below half the poverty line).

He quotes extensively from the report, which notes that children born in poverty in the US are more disadvantaged than those born in other developed countries in the world: “Among (the 35 OECD) countries, America ranks 34th in relative child poverty — ahead only of Romania, whose economy is 99 percent smaller than ours.” 

Citing statistics that demonstrate how poverty is intergenerational and the long term costs associated with the corrosive effects of poverty, the report recommends that our government invest $77 billion per year to end childhood poverty. While that is an eye-popping amount, the report notes that it pales in comparison to what we are spending now:

Every year we keep 14.7 million children in poverty costs our nation $500 billion — six times more than the $77 billion investment we propose to reduce child poverty by 60 percent.”

The report offers several ideas on how that money could be raised, including the obvious solutions of raising taxes on the highest wage earners and spending less on the military. But as I implied in the comment I left, these ideas are likely non-starters:

As you note in your column, this is not a new problem. Unfortunately “A Nation At Risk” that blamed economic problems on public schools captured the public’s attention far more than the 1994 CDF report “Wasting America’s Future” and the current toxic testing regimen is the result. You could get over $1.7 billion from the state coffers by eliminating standardized tests that are used now to tell us what we already know: children raised in poverty do worse on standardized tests than children raised in affluence. And here’s what is especially maddening: instead of using those results to demonstrate the need to invest more in children who are raised in poverty we are using those results to close neighborhood schools and replace them in many cases with for-profit charters that are not markedly improving the opportunities for children raised in poverty but ARE increasing the money shareholders receive.

I doubt that the 2014 CDF Report will get any more traction than the 1994 report, but appreciate Charles Blow’s effort to bring the report to the full attention of the public. MAYBE repeating the report’s central message will help people of conscience to think twice before they support cuts to programs that help children. That central message is:

“America’s poor children did not ask to be born; did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith.”

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