Too many children are living in poverty
Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 22:11
The American Dream — the idea that through hard work, anyone can make it in this country. This nation was founded on the ideals that "all men are created equal," and that to succeed, all you have to do is pull yourself up.
I wish that were true. Unfortunately, the statistics paint a different picture. They show a country with inequalities, starting at birth. According to the most recent census data, there are 16.4 million children – 22 percent of our nation's children — living in poverty. That's one in every five children living in poverty.
In the U.S., poverty is defined by living under the Federal Poverty Level, an outdated and inaccurate measurement based on assumptions made in the 1950s. Many researchers say that families have to make twice the FPL to sustain their families today. Nonetheless, the National Center for Children Poverty states the FPL for a family of four is $20,050. If you make twice that amount, you're considered "low-income."
Contrary to stereotypes, most of the parents of these children work; they just work for extremely low wages in highly unstable jobs. They've pulled so hard on their own bootstraps that the straps broke. How can the child with parents working as custodians have the same opportunity as the child with parents that are CEOs? How is that equal opportunity?
That's not class warfare. It's child poverty, and it's affecting you whether you believe it or not. According to Congressional testimony by the Urban Institute, the cost of this to the United States hovers around $500 billion per year. It will reduce economic output by 1.3 percent of gross domestic product, raise the cost of crime by the same amount and increase healthcare costs by 1.2 percent of GDP.
We can even see the effects of child poverty locally. According to the Orlando Sentinel, 95 percent of the students in Orange County meet the income guidelines of the federally subsidized meals program. Our child poverty levels are right on par with the national level at 21 percent.
And what's Florida's solution? Well, Republicans in Tallahassee seem to think slashing programs and cutting sources of revenue will cure all our social ills. According to Politifact, in February, Gov. Rick Scott proposed education cuts between $3.3 billion to $4.8 billion, decreasing per-pupil funding by 10 percent. Just this summer, Scott vetoed a record $615 million from local projects and assistance programs. In Orange County, that includes the redevelopment of underprivileged neighborhoods such as Pine Hills and Parramore, healthcare for the homeless and family health centers.
For over a year, I've volunteered in the daycare of a homeless shelter in one of those struggling neighborhoods. The children there have so much imagination and innovation. That actually reflects the results of a recent Gallup Poll which found that many students in the U.S. have entrepreneurial aspirations but lack the government support to pursue them. That isn't just affecting these children – that's hindering our economic growth.
Investing in our children should never be considered "wasteful spending." They are investments in our economy. Spending cuts disproportionately hurt the middle and working class, while tax cuts benefit the already successful classes – and it's the children who suffer the most. These are the orphans of the American Dream, and their struggle directly impacts our economy and the future of all Americans.