Poverty Is More Than a Number

Oct 05, 2012

By Stephanie Schmit

Advocates are asking the presidential candidates to #TalkPoverty.

The Census Bureau recently released numbers showing that poverty across the country is still deplorable.

These numbers are plastered all across the media.

The news is old---25 percent of children under age 6 live in poverty. The story is old, too-poor children are at-risk for negative outcomes. It's obvious to most that the rates are alarming. It makes one wonder why the presidential candidates failed to address the issue in the first presidential debate. Maybe they don't understand the impact that child poverty has not only in the younger years, but all throughout the life of a person who is born into and grows up in a family who lives in poverty.

Strong evidence details the impact that childhood poverty has on children from birth throughout adulthood. According to the Urban Institute, over the past four decades, almost half of the children who were born to poor parents were poor for at least half of their childhoods. Their new report looks at the impact of child poverty into the next phase of life, at negative adult outcomes. Child poverty can result in many negative outcomes, including a greater likelihood of dropping out of high school, experiencing higher rates of teen pregnancy, being poor as an adult, and having unstable employment. Children who experience poverty in the first two years of childhood are 30 percent more likely not to finish high school compared to children who become poor later in life; and children who experience persistent poverty are 90 percent more likely to enter their 20s without finishing high school.

Fortunately, the solutions to childhood poverty are abundant and fairly well known.  Children born into poor families often have parents whose jobs simply don't pay enough to cover basic and necessary expenses including health insurance, child care, food and housing. Work supports -including child care assistance, nutrition assistance, and health insurance-can help workers who struggle to meet basic needs. High-quality child care, comprehensive Head Start and Early Head Start services, and home visiting for vulnerable families can all improve the odds for poor children and ensure that they get off to a healthier start in life.

Policymakers and presidential candidates play a crucial role in creating policies and protecting valuable programs that ensure children have what they need to grow and develop when they are young.  We can break the cycle of poverty by allowing children to grow up healthy and capable of contributing to society as adults and, thereby,  helping to decrease the number of children born into poverty. The numbers are alarming, the evidence is strong---it is time to #TalkPoverty. 



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