Report: Child Poverty in U.S. Escalating
Margaret Summers | 2/8/2014, 9:43 p.m.
One of five children in the U.S. lives in poverty, according to a new report from a children's advocacy organization.
The report, conducted by Children's Defense Fund, also found that one in every 10 children, or 7.1 million children, is extremely poor.
"We are in a very dangerous time right now," Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, the organization's president and founder, told an audience of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. members at a recent legislative conference in D.C. "If [African-American women] don't stop our children's backward slide, no one else will."
The report — "The State of America's Children 2014" — is produced annually by the nonprofit advocacy organization for children and families. This year's report said that in five years, children of color in the U.S., who are disproportionately poor, will comprise the majority of all children in the U.S. These economically disadvantaged and undereducated young people will grow up to be the nation's consumers, workforce and military, it noted.
Edelman said she is especially alarmed at the "cradle-to-prison pipeline" trend, in which growing numbers of impoverished African-American children, particularly males, become involved in the juvenile justice system and ultimately end up in adult penitentiaries.
"The prisons are full of our sons," she said. "One in three black boys born in 2000 will go to prison. Imprisonment is becoming the new American apartheid."
The report details how poverty results in hunger and homelessness among poor U.S. children. Roughly 1.2 million public school students were homeless from 2011 to 2012, 73 percent more than before the recession. More than one in nine children lacked access to adequate food in 2012, a rate 23 percent higher than before the recession.
"This summer we'll be facing a serious child hunger problem," Edelman said. "There will be a [huge] drop in summer school free breakfasts and lunches. I've heard stories about how sometimes when Mississippi school buses are late taking children to school, the children cry because they missed the free school breakfast."
The summer feeding program in the schools provides nutritious meals to young people, the only source of food all day for many of them. The program is also a source of employment for many adults, but not all states make use of the program, Edelman said.
"There is a special need for these programs in poor rural areas of the country,” she added.
A substandard education is another major barrier to overcoming poverty.
"Eighty percent of our black children in fourth and eighth grade can't read at grade level," Edelman said. "Our children are being sentenced to social and economic death."
The report says that in six states — Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin — at least half of African-American children are poor, and nearly half the states had African-American child poverty rates of 40 percent or more.
“How can [House Speaker] John Boehner (R-Ohio) represent a state where 50 percent of its African-American children are poor and do nothing about it?” asked Edelman.
She told the sorority audience that it was not only important to lobby their representatives and senators to pass legislation that ends childhood poverty, but to meet with them in their home districts.
"When Congress members hear from you back home, it will really scare them," she said.
To illustrate how effective women can be in getting measures passed to lift children out of poverty, Edelman discussed a favorite analogy of her hero, slave abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth.
"In describing the political power of minorities, Sojourner often talked about fleas," she said. "She would say that enough fleas biting strategically can fell the biggest dog. They are small but indestructible, and they keep reproducing. This is a lesson for all of us. We have to be disciplined, focused, strategic 'fleas.'"
"The State of America's Children 2014" can be read at and downloaded from the Children's Defense Fund website at www.childrensdefense.org.