As we celebrate this Christmas with the sound of tiny feet rushing toward a tree to rip open presents, let’s take a moment to consider the children less fortunate — the growing number who live in poverty in this country.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 42 percent of American children live in low-income homes and about a fifth live in poverty. It gets worse. The number of children living in poverty has risen 33 percent since 2000. For perspective, the child population of the country over all increased by only about 3 percent over that time. And, according to a 2007 Unicef report on child poverty, the U.S. ranked last among 24 wealthy countries.
This is a national disgrace.
Yet the reaction to this issue in some quarters is still tangled in class and race: no more welfare to black and brown people who’ve made poor choices and haven’t got the gumption to work their way out of them. The truth is, neither the problem nor the solutions are that simple.
Yes, the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and American Indians living in low-income homes is about twice that of whites and Asians. This raises unpleasant cultural questions that must be addressed. But that’s not the whole story. Despite the imbalance, white children are still the largest group of low-income children.
Furthermore, the British may have created a road map for us that dramatically reduces child poverty while not relying solely on handouts. A report released this month by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and the London School of Economics paints a fascinating portrait of how smart policies and targeted investments in that country have produced stellar results.