Do you think tests are too hard? Do you sometimes have a hard time focusing on your homework? How hard do you think it would be to concentrate on your homework, tests, or your teachers' lectures if your family didn't have enough money to feed you? What if you were sick, and your family couldn't afford to take you to the doctor or buy your medicine? The sad truth is that 12.1 million children in America are living in poverty and have to face these challenges every day of their lives.
In September, the US Census Bureau released their annual report on child poverty levels, and the news wasn't good. Whether or not your family is living below the poverty line (which means they have an income below $13,290 a year for a family of three), chances are there are kids in your school who are. So what does that mean? Well, usually, living in poverty can mean having utilities or phone service shut off, run-down housing, not enough food to eat, crowded housing, no refrigerator, or no stove. The really alarming thing is that 4.5 million children live in families that exist below one-half of the official poverty level!
Do these numbers surprise you? They should! Especially because, right now, America is experiencing one of its greatest moments of economic prosperity. In general, business is booming, and people are spending. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of Americans are enjoying this new wealth. Right now, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is lower than it has been in years, but the percentage of poor children in working families is skyrocketing. How can that happen? It seems like working families should be doing better now than ever before. Some people think that the reason working families are struggling is that the national minimum wage is not high enough to make a living. "Some economists say that if wages had kept pace with the cost of living since the 1960s, the minimum wage would now be between $12 and $14 dollars" (CNN.com). Instead, the current minimum wage is $5.15!
Living in poverty is never easy to cope with, but the problem is especially serious when the people affected are children. Let's look at the facts: First of all, it makes concentrating in school very hard, which is a problem because it will be harder for those children to graduate from high school, get well-paying jobs, or get into college and eventually increase the lifestyle of their families.
Secondly, it is much harder to stay healthy if you don't have access to doctors and medicine. Malnutrition before the age of 18 can dramatically impact your overall health for the rest of your life.
Third, there is a direct link between poverty and crime, and young people who grow up in poverty often find themselves acting as if crime is the only way out of their situation.
Finally, if you're under 18, you can't vote in America. That means that politicians and lawmakers may not consider you a top priority. But there are ways to make them listen to you!
For starters, since the U.S. is experiencing such a great economic boom, now is a great time to convince politicians to pay attention to the issues facing young people. The Child Welfare League of America is trying to convince Congress to allocate some of the projected $4.6 trillion federal government surplus for programs to help the country's neediest children, youth, and their families. CWLA Executive Director, Shay Bilchik, said that, "The record surplus provides us an unprecedented opportunity to invest in programs that research has proven work to benefit children and families.
We have never been in a stronger economic position, and we should jump at this chance to better serve and protect the nation's most vulnerable children. We think Shay is right, and you can help make this a priority to our politicians.
Make yourself heard! There are 12.1 million kids in America who aren't as lucky as you may be. Write a letter to your representatives in Congress, requesting that they use some of the government surplus for the needs of your generation! You can also look up the congressmen in your state and email them a letter. Be sure to remind your congressmen that even though you might not be able to vote yet, you have parents and teachers who can!
The politicians care about you, and they care about making youth a priority in government spending!
Another way of helping is to support the working families who remain below the poverty line. Some cities, like Boston, Baltimore, and L.A., have established "living wages," or higher minimum wages that make it easier for people to get by on a minimum salary. To read more about the living wage battle, click here.
Child poverty in America dropped from 13.5 million children in 1998 to 12.1 million in 1999. We think that improvement is great, but it's just not enough. 12.1 million children living in poverty is still too many! Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, said "It is shameful that more children are living in poverty now than 20 years ago. When has there ever been a better time for this nation to invest in its children than when it has huge federal and state surpluses, billions in tobacco settlements, billions in welfare reform money, millions in unspent child health money in the states, and 8 years of prosperity?"
See how your state ranks in protecting children from poverty and sickness!
Then, stand up and make a difference! Click here to find contact information for federal, state, and local government.
Rebecca - How Mr. Potato Head changed the face of America