When it comes to children, poverty is not just an economic issue. It’s a moral issue. Citing Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Francis, poverty is a form of violence. And violence is immoral, especially when it targets children. Therefore, we must feel tremendous gratitude to what President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has done to raise children out of destitution and the moral conscience of the nation to a higher level.
The progress it has made in the lives of millions of children is tremendous. Dr. Edelman cites a Columbia University study that shows that LBJ’s legacy has reduced child poverty by more than a third since 1967; the figure for children in extreme poverty, from homes with incomes below the federal poverty line, this figure rises to 40 percent. Among the most successful federal programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start and Early Head Start, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The most recent data show that, in 2012, these programs kept 9 million children, 1 in 9, out of poverty. Childhood mortality is down and graduation rates are up. Most important, these are not short-term programs or solutions; their effects are long lasting. Yet, the same progress highlights the ever-present fact that we need to do more to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children. A lot more. The primary threat is the increasing fire under which government programs are coming. Those who claim that such programs do not work and encourage people not to work are “misguided and/or misinformed.” No, the real poverty trap is that the federal minimum wage is 22 percent lower than what it was in 1964. The poorest children in the nation still live in segregation, with the fewest resources. The real poverty trap is the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline. And our failure to be willing to make the needed investments to end poverty. Those who talk about people unwilling to work should examine the lives of the working poor, people struggling with multiple jobs and still not able to make ends meet.
“Child poverty is unacceptable in the United States. We are rich enough and have a dynamic enough economy that we should not have the highest child poverty rate among our peer nations. The truth is that despite important progress, the United States is still not a fair playing field for millions of children afflicted by preventable poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, poor education and violence in the world’s richest economy with a gross domestic product of $17 trillion.”
Dr. Edelman urges members of Congress, and all Americans, to examine the Children Defense Fund’s 2014 report, State of the World’s Children, 2014. I referred to this very important document in my entry of January 24 and include a link to the full text. “I would like to enter [the report] that you can see for yourselves how poorly our nation, and your individual states support, safeguard
and nurture our children,” she says. “They need you to be their champions.”
The first reason that the violence of poverty continues to afflict so many children is because of the choices we as a nation have made – or failed to make. Dr. Edelman recounts Martin Luther King’s last sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Dr. King cited the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Dives went to Hell – not because he was rich, but because he did not use his wealth to close the gulf between himself and his brother.
The second reason we still have such high levels of poverty is that while the social safety net can help people who fall on hard times, it cannot prevent those hard times from happening. “Over the past three decades, the economy has stopped working for middle-class, low-income, and poor families.” Productivity increases exponentially while individual income remains stagnant, and the gap between the very rich and the rest of the population has widened to proportions not seen in over a century. “There is no greater threat to our economic and military security” than the fact most of our students do not read or do math at grade level – or even qualify to serve the nation in the military because of poor education, obesity, and our judicial system, which Michelle Alexander has termed the “New Jim Crow.” Says Edelman, “It boggles my mind that some believe that we can afford to cut tax rates for the richest, but when it comes to investing in the needs of our children, the coffers are dry.”
The war on poverty will not be over until we have fixed policies that have fueled income inequality, providing everyone with a job that pays at least a living wage, that every child has access to a quality education in properly funded schools. We will not end poverty by “cutting the very programs enabling struggling families to stay afloat in a hostile economy …fueling a cycle of poverty that repeats itself through generations.” To end poverty, we must do at least three things: expand the safety net to ensure that “no child is left behind,” invest in research-proven programs for children from birth through age 5; and create an economy that works for everyone. Dr. Edelman calls on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. “It goes against all that our
country stands for that someone could work full-time and not be able to make ends meet.”
“To those who claim our nation cannot afford to prevent our children from going hungry and homeless and prepare all our children for school, I say we cannot afford not to.” Please read the full report; it is available online, at: http://bit.ly/1rQws50