It is time to stop talking about child poverty. The debate has run its course.
The truth is that child poverty is a time bomb, if not already already ticking. A fifth of children are living in relative poverty in the United States. It’s time to do something about it.
The best place to start is from the bottom up. It’s no surprise that child poverty disproportionately affects poor communities and families.
The New York Times recently detailed the challenges of living in some of New York City’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where many people of color live. When homes are burned down, people lose income, and children grow up exposed to trauma. Living in the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough, has a ripple effect that ensnares those living in it throughout their lives.
The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can result from traumatic events and living in poverty make kids more likely to stay in poverty or transition into a life of poverty.
Education is the engine that propels the economy forward. It’s the reason America led the world in producing adults with a college degree or higher for more than two decades. But too many U.S. high schools aren’t even close to satisfying the basics, like literacy, writing, math, chemistry, physics, and a mastery of English.
What happens when students — who are already denied the wealth of opportunities, material resources, and parental love that will help them progress — are confronted with a lifetime of low expectations because of class? The answer, sadly, is that students, their families, schools, and communities become victims of not just poverty, but also ignorance about how to get out of it.
America’s emphasis on higher education doesn’t seem to be giving a first-rate education to everyone who needs it. Indeed, America is slipping backward in terms of the number of college graduates per capita.
But we can all afford to have more high school students graduate at a first-rate level. Education is still the single most effective tool to reduce inequality.
While there are barriers to college admissions and financial aid that need to be addressed, systemic problems in schools play a larger role.
Forty-four percent of U.S. high school students are considered “in need of improvement,” meaning they scored below the cutoff for college readiness, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” These students are identified with their own “NEAP Score Map” — a reference to the NEAP’s overarching assessment of state standardized tests — assigned to them by their schools.
Students in out-of-school behavior suspensions and expulsions are identified on a separate NEAP score map, according to the National School Boards Association.
Learning how to talk about classes, tests, and other classroom matters to oneself is critical to self-development. We have committed to giving every student the opportunity to learn from peers, whether in school or in their own communities.
We should do more to fill the gaps in these “crowded” classroom learning environments, making sure our students can build relationships with those in their community and learn from them. Students who need extra support must feel supported. We must use every opportunity to teach them to work with all kinds of people, not just in the classroom.
There are many reasons why people grow up in poverty and why those with money and privilege have higher levels of economic opportunity. Research suggests that when kids from poorer families go to school with higher-income peers, their exposure to rich and poor kids may help them to build positive social skills and accumulate more of the skills needed to get ahead. Better teachers and more skilled teachers may also improve educational outcomes for all students.
Studies have documented other risk factors for child poverty. How communities treat and treat their poor kids and young adults may influence their outcomes. People from high-poverty communities can face bias, prejudice, hostile work environments, and even violence. Resilience, substance abuse, and other risk factors can affect children growing up in poor households. These factors can determine whether a child grows up in the most deprived neighborhoods or the most fortunate.
We cannot afford to leave many of our kids behind. The challenge is to begin breaking the cycle of child poverty. We have to give our kids an opportunity to learn to work, to value their education, and to contribute to their families and communities.
This month, to take a huge first step, the Trump administration is eliminating federal funds for Head Start,