Too Close To Home: Let’s Not Kid Around About Child Poverty

By | Nov 11, 2014

TWO_YOUTHS_IN_UPTOWN,_CHICAGO,_ILLINOIS,_A_NEIGHBORHOOD_OF_POOR_WHITE_SOUTHERNERS._THE_INNER_CITY_TODAY_IS_AN..._-_NARA_-_555950Whenever I hear of UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) studies that report on the state of children living in poverty—I typically imagine some distant, impoverished, developing country that struggles to provide basic resources for its young inhabitants.

Those international relief television advertisements, which broadcast emaciated children in some Third World nation, usually come to mind.

These children are mostly oceans away, far from my North American existence.

Or are they?

Recently, UNICEF published a study entitled “Children of the Recession,” documenting the state of children in wealthy countries. Yes-wealthy countries… Not one of those countries we often stereotype as struggling a continent away.

And, yes, the United States was one of the countries examined in the study.

What did they discover?

If someone described to you a country where one-third of children live in families that struggle with poverty, you would probably think of a nation far, far away from America… It would probably be some nation in the southern hemisphere, right?

However, the answer to this question would surprise many Americans. According to the recently published UNICEF report, the United States is that nation. One-third of our children are struggling with poverty.

This means that a third of our nation’s children reside in homes defined as poor, where the household income is below 60% of the national median income for 2008, or $31,000. In other countries, this annual income is a fortune.

But in this country, a family that survives on $31,000 per year places their children on a pathway to adult poverty, if not homelessness.

Why? Because poverty in America is a cyclical and generational issue. It is a greater struggle for children raised in poverty to get out of poverty than their middle and upper-class counterparts.

The Washington Post recently published an article titled, “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” which highlights some of these inequities. It details how there are few opportunities for American children living in poverty to rise above their parents’ socioeconomic status—other than higher education.

Children in wealthier families have greater social capital; that is, access to employment and higher paying jobs (think family business or family connections), regardless of whether they finish school or not.

Unequal access to opportunities is described in a New York Times opinion piece as, “opportunity hoarding.” Children of wealthier families have greater access to higher education. Families who donate large sums of money to universities clearly create better access for their children, whether or not that child earns a 4.0 GPA in high school.

This same hoarding of opportunities occurs in the workplace. Wealthy children have better access to employment via their family connections.

The problem with hoarding opportunities is that there are only a finite number of opportunities for entrance to higher education and high paying jobs. The under-performing children of wealthy families take up these opportunities, limiting the number of opportunities for high-performing children of families that struggle with poverty.

So, why are we surprised when an international body reveals that one of every three American children live in poverty? Isn’t our country described as, “the land of opportunity”?

There is one simple solution, as described by Slate Magazine: Get families struggling with poverty out of impoverished neighborhoods. If a child can grow up in an environment with greater socioeconomic resources, the odds of success increase.

This solution only occurs if families struggling with poverty have access to affordable housing in better neighborhoods. Affordable housing has become the paramount solution for homelessness. It is also the answer to child poverty.

So, let’s not kid ourselves. Child poverty occurs in our “land of opportunity.” However, there are solutions.