What do the new child poverty numbers mean for our work and our city?
Well, I hate to admit it, but when the Census Bureau released staggering new figures on rising child poverty last week, I was worlds away on a long-planned trip with my family in of all places, Paris, France. Walking around that great city, where beautiful buildings and breathtaking monuments attest to its long history of revolution, war, turmoil and triumph, as well as its famous culture and the arts, I was struck by its resemblance to our own fine city. Of course, Washington's chief planner was a French-born architect who envisioned a grand capital with broad boulevards, monumental architecture and sweeping vistas that conveyed America's greatness.
Today, nearly three in 10 children (29 percent) in Washington live in poverty. That rate is what we have been quoting all along, citing other surveys, but the Census is still the authoritative source and gives the numbers more force. We also learned that the rate of poverty in our city is sharply rising among African American children in the District -- 43 percent lived in poverty in 2009, compared with 36 percent in 2008. Surely, Mr. L'Enfant imagined a brighter future for this grand city, the capital of the world's richest and most powerful nation.
DC Action for Children was founded 18 years ago by a group of citizens concerned about deteriorating conditions for working families in the nation's capital. Today, after the Great Recession, poverty is worse than it was then, and our youngest citizens are hardest hit. That is why we have chosen to focus our efforts for the time being on expanding access to high-quality early care and early education, which research has shown can break the cycle of poverty for children and their families for generations.
Three in 10 in poverty. That statistic is jarring every time I read it. And yet, we cannot allow ourselves to become numb to it and turn the page. We need to gather our strength and resolve to challenge the status quo. We need to do better and we can. This month, DC Action will launch High 5 for DC's Kids, a campaign aimed at improving conditions and critical services for children from birth to age 5. Will you join us?