By Saad Asad
Child poverty rates in the United States soared to 22 percent in 2010. The problem is worse for minorities: 39 percent and 35 percent of Black and Hispanic children, respectively, live in poverty. Despite this troubling issue, the federal government has made little headway in reducing child poverty rates over the past decade.
Admittedly, the rise was exacerbated by the recession and the related foreclosure crisis that wiped out jobs and homes. But the effects of the 2008 financial crisis explain only part of the US’ high child poverty rate: in pre-crisis 2007 it was 18 percent. Over the past ten years, the rate has only increased.
Child Poverty 2000-2010
As a UNICEF study explains, these individual problems escalate in to a nationwide economic problem:
“Failure to protect children from poverty is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make. The heaviest cost of all is borne by the children themselves. But their nations must also pay a very significant price – in reduced skills and productivity, in lower levels of health and educational achievement, in increased likelihood of unemployment and welfare dependence, in the higher costs of judicial and social protection systems, and in the loss of social cohesion. The economic argument, in anything but the shortest term, is therefore heavily on the side of protecting children from poverty.”
To prevent this crisis from worsening, immediate relief can be found from expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and maintaining unemployment insurance benefits to the jobless. For the long haul, though, the US should look to the policies implemented by the United Kingdom in reducing its own child poverty rate. Aside from increasing subsidies,the UK increased access to childcare programs and targets were set to eliminate child poverty by 2020. So far, the UK has reduced absolute child poverty significantly.
From a structural standpoint, communities and governments need to increase focus on pre-K education and child daycare for those families that cannot afford it. The negative effect of early-life poverty and lack of pre-K education on later-life outcomes is well understood, and impoverished children at age 4 are already 18 months behind developmentally.
President Barack Obama should also be lauded for requesting $210 million to set up zones across the country similar to the successful Harlem Children’s Zone. The one in Harlem pays strict attention to students’ behavior, increases their time in school, and enforces rigorous standards for teachers. David Brooks of the New York Times furthers:
“Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy [a charter middle school in the Harlem Children’s Zone] produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.”
Although these programs cost taxpayer money, they are effective in reducing child poverty and its resulting ill effects. And when considering how these ill effects can affect crime rates, unemployment rates, and overall economic growth in the future, then these measures are surely a worthwhile investment.