The Social Costs of an Empty Lunchbox

Rumblings of the growing crisis of child poverty have become quite loud of late. In March the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) issued the most comprehensive childhood hunger study ever conducted in the United States, showing that one in four American children suffers from hunger or related problems. In June the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) published facts on child poverty that will blow the lid off most people's view of who is poor and why. And the bipartisan National Commission on Children, chaired by Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), was to release its long-awaited findings just at Sojourners press time and will call for, among other things, strengthened child support enforcement.

The raw numbers describing the plight of American children are alarming:

  • Every eight seconds of the school day a child drops out.
  • Every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected (675,000 a year).
  • Every 67 seconds a teenager has a baby.
  • Every seven minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.
  • Every 36 minutes a child is killed or injured by guns.
  • Every 53 minutes a child dies because of poverty.

But perhaps most arresting are new statistics from the Children's Defense Fund report. While public perception is that poor children come from minority communities, live in the inner cities, and are raised in single-parent, non-working households, the truth is that the majority of poor children are white, live outside of cities, and have one or two wage earners in their families. Nearly half live in families that do not receive welfare payments. And while single parenthood drives up poverty rates, an international comparison shows that even if the children in single-parent families were removed from the count, the United States would still have one of the highest child poverty rates among all industrialized societies.

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