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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/19/11

The Kids Count

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"If the top earners are OK, then the rest of us will be OK."

That piece of economic sleight-of-hand has been a central tenet in the Republican catechism since even before Ronald Reagan and long before the Tea Party.

The Grand Old Party clings to this totally discredited and never-proven economic article-of-faith despite a mountain of evidence that grows higher with each passing week in recession.

The figures that tell most of this sorry story are these, reported in the Huffington Post:
The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its largest margin ever, a stark divide as Democrats and Republicans spar over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans - those making more than $100,000 each year - received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.
At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, the data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.
But there's another part of the story that's not usually told. It's how American children are being affected by the Great Recession.

One of the few looks into this largely hidden part of the issue was taken by Sixty Minutes on CBS television a few weeks ago. The show revealed a large cohort of school kids who have been forced to live in motels because their parents lost their jobs and then their homes through foreclosure.

These kids run over to their school to brush their teeth and wash up in the morning. They run out to the nearest fast-food joints, with their parents, at mealtimes. In the mornings, a special school bus picks them up near their motels. The bus is dedicated to that task. And many families who aren't living in motels, or camping out with friends or relatives, are living in municipal shelters. One father, out of work for more than a year, has taken to sitting on the curb of a busy thoroughfare with an upside-down cap and displaying a sign that reads," Will Work for Food - Family of Three."

Now the Annie E. Casey Foundation gives us a set of hard and very grim data to support Sixty Minutes' anecdotal view. That data is very scary, very angry-making and very heart-breaking. The new numbers on 2009 poverty among U.S. children finds 31 million children living in families that are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Now, in 2010, they are higher still.

On the PBS Newshour, Judy Woodruff discussed the new statistics with Patrick McCarthy, CEO of the Casey Foundation, which has spent years  compiling this kind of data about kids.

The Foundation's new report - The Kids' Count -- tells us that poverty rates among children rose substantially, not just during the recession, but throughout the last decade. The official child poverty rate rose by nearly 20 percent from 2000 to 2009. And, in 2010, 11 percent of children lived with at least one unemployed parent.

That means that 20 percent of all American children are living in poverty. Twenty percent is 31 million kids. Think about it!

The Foundation says that it's even more troubling in some ways is that the children who are on the edge of living in poverty, those children who live with families that are at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, we now have 42 percent of all children, 31 million children in the U.S., living at that level.

Patrick McCarthy describes these 31 million children living below -- at or below $43,500 a year - as surviving "two or three paychecks away from economic catastrophe."

McCarthy understates the figures as "stunning" -- "especially when you consider what the research tells us what happens when children grow up in poverty or when they slip into poverty as a result of recession."

He says: "We know that kids who grow up poor are much more likely to end up being poor themselves. They're more likely to have children too early with teen pregnancy. They're more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system as they grow up. They're less likely to be employed. And they're less likely to fully use the talents that they're given."

McCarthy's foundation looked at all the past recent recessions. It compared children who slipped into poverty as a result of one of those recessions, with a child who was at the same level of income before the recession. Those kids who fell into poverty in fact were less likely to graduate from school, more likely to have school problems, more likely to have educational difficulty.

And even health was affected over the long term as those kids were followed into adulthood.

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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