Kids and Poverty

According to a story featured on NPR (Tuesday, 9/13/11), the outlook on American poverty is as grim as ever. What the story only touched upon is how the situation affects the nation’s children.

I’ll summarize the story here:

Using Census information, the overall U.S. economy has been growing for over 2 years and the stock market’s up from its lowest point in 2009. However, 2010 saw an increase of people at the poverty level — 15.1% of Americans — compared to 14.3% in 2009.

Additionally, the median income level declined in 2010 to its lowest level in years, $49,500 (down 6% since the start of the recession).

In 2010, over 22 million households “doubled up” with friends and relatives, 10% more than before the recession hit, and six million Americans between 25-34 years old were living with their parents in order to survive financially.

Ron Haskins, a poverty expert with the Brookings Institution, says a lack of jobs is the main culprit, and that those out of work for such a long period of time are the hardest hit because they’re running out of resources.

The U.S. Census defines the poverty line at $22,000 for a family of four.  In 2010, over 46 million Americans (1 in 6) lived below the poverty level.  That figure is up 2.6 million from 2009.

Kids, the NPR report stated, are hit especially hard. More than 1 in 5 children were poor in 2010. Blacks’ and Hispanics’ poverty rates were 2.5 times greater than their non-Hispanic White counterparts.

Further, incomes dropped across the board from 2009 to 2010.  Economist Rich Birkhouser of Cornell University says the income downturn is especially apparent with males. He reports “fewer men working for less.”

Sheldon Danzinger, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan, says the typical male worker’s income has remained relatively unchanged since 1972.  As Danzinger says, men actually haven’t “made economic progress in 40 years.”

While the Census reports the 2010 unemployment rate down slightly from 2009 (currently at 9%), significant and ongoing layoffs continue throughout the country.

As adults, we’re aware of how shattering these numbers are, but what about the nation’s kids? In a classrooms across the nation, 5 of every 25 live below the poverty line. They live in households (if they’re lucky to live in a house) filled with stress and worry and a host of behaviors that follow as a result.

American kids exposed to poverty grow up before they’re ready.

American kids exposed to poverty feel the weight of the world as their parents’ attention turns away from them as they work multiple jobs, search for new jobs, or worse, fall into depression or substance abuse as a result of their plight.

American kids exposed to poverty are like all children in that they live in the moment — therefore, the situation feels as though it will last forever.

No one wants to admit they’re struggling financially. We live in the greatest country in the world, right? Yet children are often forgotten in this silent epidemic. They’re often told:

“Don’t tell anyone.”

“We’ll get by.”

“We’ll just have to go without.”

Children hear these phrases, yet they walk down the aisles of Target and Walmart and any grocery store, past rows of toys and trinkets and trash, luring them with shiny, colorful appeal. Television commercials and kid-focused websites emphasize unlimited happiness and satisfaction that comes with the acquisition of X,Y and Z product.

Most important, children of poverty are no longer the shoeless waifs you remember from sepia photographs taken during the Depression. They’re in your carpools. Nestled in the secondhand BabyBjorn baby carriers on the tired moms in the grocery store.  Sliding down the tornado slides at the park. Sitting in the childcare room before and after school while their parents try to find work.

Children of poverty deserve acknowledgment. They need to understand they are not alone, that they did not cause their parents’ frustration.

Children of poverty in America need to be given a voice.

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