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Child Poverty: 7 Lessons

Source: The HAND Foundation

People children in Bandar Abbas, Iran

The official child poverty rate in the United States today stands at 20 percent; it is the second highest among the world’s developed countries. That means that almost 15 million children live in poverty in the United States. The Century Foundation formulated seven “lessons” about childhood poverty in the U.S. following its Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June:

1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts

About 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five. In the first few years, as many as 700 neural connections form per second. Toxic stress interferes with these connections and affects a child’s neurological development, leading to lifelong problems. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard has shown that there is a 90-100 percent chance of developmental delays when children under age 3 experience six to seven risk factors (such as poverty, single-parent households, or low maternal education) as defined by a report by University of Maryland’s Dr. Richard Barth.

2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally

While children are the poorest age group in America, the youngest children are the poorest of all. 20 percent of children under age 18 are poor, compared to 23 percent of children under age 5. The numbers are even worse for African American and Hispanic children. 42 percent of African American children under age 5 are poor, meaning that the odds of an African American child being born poor are just about the same as the same child’s odds of graduating college. 36 percent of Hispanic children under age 5 are poor.

If we dig deeper, we see that not only are a large number of children under age 5 poor, but half of them are defined as extremely poor-that is, living in households whose annual income is under half of the poverty line, currently $11,641 for a family of four (an already outdated measure).

3. The Power of Parental Education

“I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want to give their child a head start, they just don’t know how,” stated Yolanda Minor, a home visiting specialist from Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) at the Inequality Begins at Birth conference. Home-visiting programs like ESSS bring parenting and health care education directly to low-income households. It is a huge benefit for children of parents who do not have the time or transportation to get to site-specific intervention programs. Furthermore, these home-visiting programs are remarkably effective. The Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness (HomVEE) study identified fourteen different models that produce positive results. Unfortunately, only 4 percent of eligible infants receive Early Head Start, a federal program that includes one of our largest home-visiting options. Although such programs have delivered results, even if pediatricians inform parents of programs they are eligible for, benefits are limited if the programs are inadequately funded.

By some estimates, the rate of return for early childhood programs is approximately $4-$10 for every $1 invested, as early childhood programming can eradicate costs later in life from incarceration and health care problems. With such a high payback to both the individual and society, funding for such programs should be put at the forefront of economic policy.

4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement

“Childhood poverty” may conjure up images of unemployed parents, but the reality is much different. America has a virtual army of full-time working parents, many of whom remain below the poverty line. Many of those parents hold minimum-wage jobs. The average minimum-wage worker is 35 years old, female, and works full-time. Furthermore, 28 percent of minimum-wage workers are parents. A minimum-wage employee working full-time earns an annual income of $15,080. But the federal poverty threshold for a three-person family (one adult and two children) is $18,776.

Even raising minimum wage however doesn’t address the real problem: America’s official poverty line is low. A more realistic number for an actual average basic budget for a family of three is somewhere around $40,273, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Family Budget Calculator. That revised income is almost three times the amount a full-time worker makes from minimum wage. So, even a two-parent family with just one child would struggle if both parents worked full-time at the minimum wage.

Lifting children out of poverty goes hand-in-hand with fairly rewarding their hard-working parents. Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, the amount proposed by the Fair Minimum Wage Act, would benefit 7 million parents-reaching almost one in five children. The current, federal minimum wage of $7.25 does not hold up under any measurements. In real dollars (that is, if one simply adjusted the wage to keep pace with inflation), today’s minimum wage would need to be $9.40 simply to produce the same buying power that it had in 1968. If America were to tie the minimum wage to the median American’s wage, the figure would be closer to $10.65 today. Even that number is inadequate because the productivity of low-wage workers has been increasing steadily, but wages have not kept up. Minimum wage workers would be earning $16.54 per hour had their wages kept pace with the growth rate of productivity in America.

Raising the minimum wage has often been painted as a Democratic talking point, but the truth is, over three-quarters of Americans favor increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.00.

5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood

Although discrimination against pregnant workers is technically illegal, due to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, courts have interpreted protections narrowly, making it difficult for workers to win discrimination claims. A bill called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would clarify these protections for pregnant workers and protect women from employers who would disregard their safety. Modeled after the Americans With Disabilities Act, the much-needed PWFA would strike a balance between protecting workers and preventing undue hardship for employers.

Another important step is to update the archaic federal paid family leave policy. Currently, when an employee in the United States has a child, they are guaranteed no paid leave at all. U.S. employers fail to pick up the slack; only 11 percent of private and 17 percent of public sector workers receiving paid family leave. While employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, this is often an unfeasible option for parents living paycheck to paycheck.

6. Government Works

The safety net cuts poverty in half. In 2012, this meant that the federal safety net kept over 40 million people out of poverty. It’s worth taking a closer look at what safety net programs are working to see how we might be able to make even greater inroads.

7. Cash Allowances Are Effective

Cash allows different people in completely different environments to do what’s best for them. After all, a working, single-mother in rural Missouri has very different needs from an unemployed family of four living in New York City. Cash allowances can empower individual agency by operating on the assumption that it is the people in need that are mostly likely to know what they need. Unlike existing anti-poverty programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which do not to apply to parents who have no earnings, cash allowances are available to everyone. Plus, cash allowances can be paid out weekly or monthly rather than annually, a distinction that matters greatly to families living paycheck to paycheck.

Steven Pressman, an economics professor at Monmouth University, has calculated that a child allowance of $2,000 per child per year would reduce U.S. child poverty rates by six percentage points. That plan would cost about $80 billion per year. For comparison, the federal government spent about $76 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-what used to be known as food stamps. So, for about the cost of a single antipoverty program, we could be directly transferring $2,000 in cash to every child in America.

Click here to read the complete publication on the Seven Lessons about Child Poverty.

... Payvand News - 02/25/15 ... --

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