Monday, October 10, 2011

Poverty among children in US on the rise

Listening to the news recently I heard that in Brooklyn Park, a northwest suburb of Minneapolis, nearly one third of the children live in poverty.  Within the city of Minneapolis a staggering number of schools have a majority of their children living in property.  The overall number of children enrolled in free/reduced rate lunch sky rocked from 39% in 1985 to 66% in 1997, and it has held steady at that high rate through 2010.  The vast majority of these students are children of color.

Poverty is not limited to urban and suburban residents.  Within the state of Minnesota one in seven of our children are living in poverty. The rate of poverty has increased 56% in the state of Minnesota since 2000.  For a family of four the poverty line is at $22,000 per year.

A commentary, "When hard work is not enough", by Brian Rusche, the executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition discusses the severe impact poverty can have on children.  It is now believed that the chronic stress related to poverty leads to inhibited brain development. Mr. Rusche cites the following additional impacts of poverty on children.

  • more likely to drop out of school
  • require economic aid and social services as adults
  • exhibit hopelessness
  • fall into patterns of criminal behavior
  • be under of unemployed
Solutions to poverty among children include early childhood education, subsidized quality child daycare, quality schools, and jobs that pay a livable wage.

During the month of October many faith communities observe "Children's Sabbath", to draw attention to the needs of children in our state.  Helping to bring children out of poverty is not only an ethical thing to do, but also in the long term it is also is the most economically responsible action. Far better for children to have a successful start to enhance their chances of being productive, contributing members of society.  

Peter Benson, October 2010, presenting
at state mentoring conference
the University of Minnesota
Peter Benson, former president of the Search Institute, was a great advocate for children and youth.  He promoted the development of assets, rather than focusing on prevention of negative behaviors, such as lowering high school drop out rates, drug use, and teenaged pregnancy. I was blessed to have crossed paths with Dr. Benson at various local and national youth conferences.  My thoughts and prayers are are with him and his family as a celebration of his life occurs this afternoon.   He died at age 65 after a battle with colon cancer.  A TED video with Peter Benson, "Sparks: How Youth Thrive", is available for viewing.

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