Childhood poverty: Nothing to be celebrated
Moultrie News, Friday, June 10, 2016

Last month our country celebrated Red Nose Day. To the best of my memory, this is the second year childhood poverty has had a day of national emphasis and recognition. Believe it or not, more children live in poverty today than before the great recession.
I celebrate the fact childhood poverty is being recognized and addressed. Poverty is a blight on our nation, state and local community. Twenty-two percent of children live in poverty, up from 18 percent in 2008. One in five in the USA lives in poverty. In South Carolina, the numbers are much higher. Twenty-seven percent of our children are raised in economically disadvantaged conditions. We rank 42nd out of 50 states. Children go to sleep with no food in their bellies. Many leave school on Friday and do not have anything to eat until they return to school for breakfast. No child can be expected to learn when they are hungry.

Poverty affects children in many ways. Laura Speer, Annie E. Casey’s Foundation’s Associate Director for Policy Reform says, “Child poverty is so closely linked with indicators such as low birthweight, single-parent families, low-income housing and neighborhoods. These indicators signal the likelihood for success or failure throughout a child’s development.” When a child lacks proper nurturing and education in their early years, they are very unlikely to ever escape poverty in adulthood.

Minnesota has the lowest rate of uninsured children in the country. Instead of cutting welfare programs in the crisis of the great recession, they gave tax credits, raised the minimum wage and increased childcare assistance. “It’s pretty clear from the data that the rising tide of economic recovery has not lifted all boats,” Speer said. “We still haven’t made up ground of where we were pre-recession for many low-income families.”

There are some good things going on in our tricounty area to combat the fall of our innocent children into despair. First, Lowcountry Food Bank teams up with local civic groups with a program called backpack buddies. Backpacks are filled with snacks and distributed on Friday afternoons for the children to take home over the weekend.

Cradle to Career is an organization birthed a couple of years ago by a group of concerned philanthropists who want to attack the problem of early childhood development head on. Our local East Cooper Faith Network (ECFN) and I are currently working with several settlement community leaders to investigate the need for early childhood development programs. This group, an ECCO partner, successfully created a lunch buddy/I-Beam program involving almost 300 at-risk kids right here in East Cooper.

Our schools embraced the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program several years ago. This will soon bring positive effects on a developing workforce in just a few years. It is becoming very evident that the numbers of these local children living in poverty will decrease.

Jack Little is executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.