child poverty

Purple Solutions to Poverty

Image via Kukhmar/

Image via Kukhmar/

Robert Putnam, who spoke this Monday at Georgetown for the Catholic-Evangelical Summit on Overcoming Poverty, gives a great stump speech for poor kids who are falling through the cracks in our society. So much so that moderator John Carr described Putnam as an Old Testament prophet with charts — Isaiah, with a good grasp of Powerpoint.

Our culture has been terrible at providing opportunities to poor children. Putnam’s data finds that poor children have fewer chances to do well in school and less parental involvement, and are generally isolated from society and even from church. With this background, we shouldn’t be surprised that children who are born into poverty have trouble finishing college and building a stable, prosperous life.

Putnam calls this the "chief moral crisis of our time." 

Kids Say the Profoundest Things

Photo: © noregt /

Photo: © noregt /

I asked a small group of second-graders what they would like to find inside their mailboxes. That was after we read a story about a goose who opened her mailbox and found a kite. I expected to hear answers of things: video games, toys or basketballs. But the first student who raised her hand looked at me with sincere, big brown eyes and said, "I'd like to find a letter from my dad."

In my classroom, my kids say the profoundest things.

As we entered the holiday season, I thought about the answer that student gave me. I thought about what other of my 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds were saying about the holiday season.

For three years, I lived and worked in a large housing project in Louisville, Ky. I was a middle-class, white graduate student, and my background clouded how I saw the people around me. But I finally began to see clearly.

Poverty's Annoying Persistence

It’s annoying, isn’t it, how American political debate ignores the pressing issues and instead focuses on the trivial? I’m talking about pressing issues like the recently released poverty numbers – nearly 1 in 6 Americans lives in poverty, and the child poverty rate is even higher. That’s 46.2 million people living on less than $23,021 a year for a family of four.  

Those are sobering numbers. Here’s another: a new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting shows that of the 10,489 news stories on the campaign this year, just 17 of them addressed poverty in a substantive way. That’s a whopping 0.16 percent of coverage devoted to issues of poverty.

We need to get poverty back on the public agenda. In the richest country in the world, numbers that high should be seen as a moral crisis.  

Compassion in the Midst of Poverty

Child hand illustration, Christopher Jones /

Child hand illustration, Christopher Jones /

When I walk into Paola's first-grade classroom, I'm aware of her poverty. Nine out of 10 of the students at our school meet the federal poverty level guidelines. She is one of them.

She lives in a small apartment with her grandma, mom, sister and uncle; they make less than $26,170 a year.

As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman reminds us, she is all too likely to suffer from poor nutrition, inadequate health care, an inferior education and a bad future.

I'm struggling against her life-crushing poverty with all of the compassion, creativity and commitment within me.

Yes, I'm aware of her poverty. Today, however, I don't see it.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 3, 2012

Politics And Prayers; Senate Passes Insider-Trading Bill; What Childhood Poverty Means (OPINION); Nation-Building Vs. Al-Qaeda-Crushing In Afghanistan; Should All Americans Have To Earn Their Citizenship?; That Former Slave Who Wrote His Ex-Master Never Went Back To Him; NC's Heath Shuler Won't Seek Re-Election To House; Syria: It’s Not Just About Freedom (OPINION); Jobs Report: Unemployment Rate For Returning Veterans Fell 6 Percentage Points.

The Morning News: Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

Private Sector Adds 206,000 Jobs In November; Police Clear Occupy Camps In Los Angeles, Philly; Churches Help Occupy Movement Survive Crackdowns, Winter; Study: Even With More Kids In Poverty, Number Of Uninsured Children Fell 14 Percent Over 3 Years; Poverty Soars For Students In D.C., Montgomery County; Anonymous Iowa Christian Group Launches Attack On Gingrich; Should Fair Trade Certify Giants Like Nestle and Folger's?; Long Lines For Free Holiday Food Vouchers.

Must Watch: Hard Times Generation: Families Living in Cars

Homelessness is a growing problem for children around the United States.

Homelessness is a growing problem for children around the United States.

This weekend, 60 Minutes aired a piece that has been commended by many as a shocking but must-see insight into poverty in the United States today.

Sixteen million children now live in poverty, and for many, they don’t even have a proper place to call home. These situations are even more frequent in areas of the country where traditional industries have collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis – such as the construction industry in central Florida.

The Afternoon News: Friday, Nov. 18, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Alabama’s New Immigration Law Is A Disaster For The State’s Economy; Undocumented Immigrants Facing Deportation: Caught Up In Confusion, Lost Records, Inconsistent Policy Enforcement, And Difficult Choices; A Deeper Look At Income Inequality; Why The Debt Panel Is In Trouble; How Congress Occupied Wall Street (OPINION – Sarah Palin); 68 Percent Of The Sons Of The 1 Percent Work At Their Dad's Company; More Than 1 In 5 U.S. Children Poor, Census Says.

What We Need to Do to Cut Poverty in Half in 10 Years

Perhaps the most important finding from the report is that we have both the experience and the policy tools necessary to cut poverty in half.

Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class.

Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.

We can't do this alone.