More U.S. children than ever before living in poverty
Yesterday the Census Bureau released new figures revealing deepening poverty across America. One in seven, or 44 million, Americans live in poverty, and the number of children living in poverty is at the highest point since the Census began tracking this data -- one in five children, or 15 million.
In the District, the situation is even more dire for our youngest and most vulnerable children. According to the latest Kids Count, more than a quarter of children in our city live in poverty. That figure has also likely increased since the data was collected in 2008 as the recession and unemployment deepened. A widely cited figure on child poverty in D.C. is one in three -- that is probably closer to the mark, though the Kids Count data show that it declined from 30% in 2000 to 26% in 2008.
Young children living in poverty face numerous hurdles beginning at birth -- they are more likely to be born with a low-birth weight and to have continuing nutritional deficits and health issues that thwart their ability to learn and thrive. Children who are hungry or have chronic health ailments linked to poverty such as asthma, have trouble concentrating at school or may miss days, putting them at a disadvantage to their peers.
In fact, poverty is the single biggest predictor of a child's success in school. The response to growing poverty in America must be vigorous and it must be multi-dimensional, addressing jobs, childhood nutrition programs and housing. High quality early care and education is one important piece of the solution.
According to one study, children entering kindergarten from low-income families who have not had the benefit of prior early care and education are likely to average 60% lower on cognitive tests than their more affluent peers. That achievement gap is likely to remain or grow larger as the child continues through school.
And the cycle of poverty continues for these children and their families. Despite the city's budget crunch, we need to find ways for D.C. to make smart investments to support the success of our youngest and most vulnerable children. Otherwise, we're losing another generation of children.