Our National Shame

The increasing numbers of children living in poverty and the corresponding rise in the number of homeless families with children in our country is one of the dirty secrets left undiscussed in this ugly election season.

Homeless in Utah:

The lingering recession has taken a toll on Utah’s youngest residents, leading to a 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released Wednesday.

That’s pretty dramatic. The number of school aged homeless children has nearly doubled in 2 years. It’s not a campaign issue. No one is talking about it. There’s more outrage being expressed about Juan Williams getting fired by NPR.

In Nebraska:

The number of homeless students in Nebraska public schools increased 26 percent in the past school year as the limping economy forced more parents into shelters or other temporary living arrangements.

Schools reported 2,210 homeless students last school year, or 458 more than the year before, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

The Omaha Public Schools reported 661 homeless students last year, an increase of more than 20 percent.

In Colorado:

School District 51 identified 500 homeless children last year, and already 275 students have been identified the first quarter — “substantially higher than it’s ever been at this time of year,” said prevention services coordinator Cathy Haller.

“We estimate (based on national statistics) at any given time there’s another 20 percent (100 kids) not enrolled who should be,” Haller said.

Worst of all is this report on homeless children from the group First Focus (PDF):

Analysis of recently released federal data shows that the number of homeless children and youth identified in public schools has increased for the second year in a row, and by 41% over the past two school years.

You’d think this would make headlines.
You’d be wrong.

Seven states saw a decrease in the number of homeless school-aged children. The remaining 43 states saw increases. In some cases the increases were huge. Iowa saw a 136 % increase.

Finally, there’s this PBS story about homeless children. It will make you weep.

It’s shameful that this isn’t even a topic in our upcoming elections. It’s shameful that we aren’t ashamed.

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The Kids Really Aren’t Alright

I already know that I’ll be yelling at the TV early next week when C-SPAN2 carries the Senate debate on the unemployment extension bill, and on an amendment to restore COBRA health insurance aid for jobless workers. That’s because I’m certain that Republican multi-millionaire Senators such as Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and John McCain (R-Ariz), he of seven eight houses, will be whining about how we can’t afford to help the families of America’s unemployed millions because of the “burdens” it will place on Alexander’s and McCain’s “children and grandchildren.”

You can bet that their children and grandchildren are all pretty well set with nice trust funds and whatnot, thank you very much. How nice it must be for the upper crust to be so insulated from the impact of the Great Recession.

But what about the rest of us? What about our children and grandchildren?

From The Hechinger Report:

More children will live in poverty this year. More will have two parents who are unemployed. Fewer children will enroll in pre-kindergarten programs, and fewer teenagers will find jobs. More children are likely to commit suicide, be overweight and be victimized by crime. This is all according to a report released today by the Foundation for Child Development that measures the impact of the recession on the current generation.

These are the children of the Great Recession, a cohort that will experience a decline in fortunes that erases 30 years of social progress. The report – known as the Child and Youth Well-Being Index – predicts that in the next few years, the economy may recover and the unemployment rate may drop, but the generation growing up now could feel the harsh impact of the recession for years to come.

“These are the lasting impacts of extreme recessions,” said Kenneth Land, a professor of sociology and demography at Duke University and author of the report.

The current report predicts that the number of children living in poverty will rise to 15.6 million in 2010, an increase of more than 3 million children in four years. More than a quarter of American children will live in families where both parents don’t have full-time jobs, up from 22 percent in 2006. As many as half a million children could become homeless, up from 330,000 in 2007.

The decline in overall child well-being in the U.S. comes after several years of improvement driven largely by declining rates of crime, drinking and drug use, according to the report, which includes data from the U.S. Census, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Education Statistics. The percentage of children living in poverty had also been dropping relatively steadily until 2000, when it began ticking upward.

That’s when the Republicans gained control of the White House and Congress.

Already, U.S. students trail their peers in many developed countries on most measures of child well-being. American children were last or close to last in terms of poverty, parental employment, safety, health and family relationships compared to 20 other developed nations, according to a 2007 UNICEF report. They were also close to the bottom in educational achievement.

And then came the Great Recession. Right now, school districts across the country are cutting back, and perhaps the programs hardest-hit are in early childhood education.

Schools will be hit particularly hard by the aftershocks, said Land. As more families enter the ranks of the poor, more children will arrive at school behind their wealthier peers, yet fewer will have the benefit of quality early education to help them catch up. The children who miss out on pre-kindergarten now will likely have lower reading and math scores in five years, when they enter fourth grade. In another decade, they’ll be more likely to drop out of high school.

“If you trace out those cohort effects, kids who don’t get good schooling early in life, typically score less well on standardized tests later. They have a more difficult time staying attached to school,” Land said.

Curtis Skinner, the director of family economic security at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said he’s seen similar trends in his own research.

“It means a lot of long-term bad effects,” he said. “We can expect more of these problems down the road.”

The recent extension of unemployment benefits has also reinforced the safety net for poor families, which could mitigate the experience of severe poverty, according to Sanders Korenman, a professor in Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs and a senior economist for labor, welfare, and education under President Clinton.

Korenman, along with other researchers, agrees that the recession has yet to unleash its full force on most families, leaving uncertainty about how children will ultimately fare. The federal bailout delayed the fiscal crisis in most states, but now, huge cuts in education, public safety, and Medicaid are imminent in many states.

“The strongest evidence for adverse impacts is long-term, severe poverty,” Korenman said. “Certainly a recession like this raises the risk for that.”

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Old Mother Hubbard

Rebecca Hawkins—Ohio

The other night I met a woman on turf whose husband had been laid off from his auto manufacturing job. He has not been able to find steady work and has been working for a temp agency in a desperate attempt to support his family. The woman related to me that she often doesn’t have enough money to feed her children. I asked if she was registered to vote; she said no. She then asked for a voter registration form because she finally realized she could help to make a change by voting.

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The Reasons are Ever Present

by Joe Bonenfant—Ohio

The other day I was canvassing in Hamilton, Ohio. I came to a house on the corner of two main streets on my turf. 2 small children were playing in the front yard. I asked to speak with one of their parents. An older woman came out to speak with me. I gave her my rap and I noticed she didn’t have any hair. When I asked which issue was most important I knew she was going to say health care.

She explained to me how she was in the middle of chemotherapy. There were better procedures to treat her breast cancer but the insurance company said they were “experimental.” I told her to stay strong and wished her and her children a blessed evening. This story was so important because when I was only three, the same thing happened to my mom. She suffered through chemo and as a result, early menopause. This put a tremendous strain on our family dynamic. I was reminded of myself in her two children. People like this, who are going through hard times but can still help their fellow man, are the reason I love this job so much.

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Giving hope

by Nathan Rose—Minnesota

I was canvassing in Brooklyn Park where I met a woman whose child was hit by a car. She lost her home to pay for her children’s health care and lost her job while nursing her injured child. She said that she now just wants to help fix the health care system however she can, even if it’s through volunteer work. “I don’t even want money,” she said. “I just want to help people by doing something that matters.: Then she gave me an apple and a DPM, despite the fact that “every dollar is precious,” she said. “Thank you. This gives me hope.”

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More than art

by Tom Richmond III—Michigan

It was my second day at my second real job in my life. The day was brisk, a foreshadow of work to come. After a knock and a ring, the door was opened by a middle-aged woman. The rap went well, and I had the pleasure of an audience with her son front row. As she was flipping through my clipboard, the son handed me a folded note, saying “here, this is for you.” Inside I found a drawing of a cartoon character—hair all aflame with a teen angst look about him. I said “is this me?” All he could respond with was a smile, then he ran off. His mother noticed. She took my pen and signed up, saying “we need more people like you out here.”

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Video: Concerned about toxic toys

Chris Antonneau finds a new member who’s concerned about toxic toys, and offers him a solution that can help keep his child safe.

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Planting the seeds for activism

by Jennifer Hofelich—Pennsylvania

I was sitting on the sidewalk finishing up my paperwork for the night. At the end of the street, I noticed a group of young people (11-12 years old) walking toward me. As they passed, one of the young girls said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “I’m working. What are you doing?” After we exchanged small talk, they began asking more questions about the nature of our work. I said, “We’re fighting so that people like you and your grandparents can afford to go to the doctor.”

One of the little girls saw the health care petition on my clipboard and asked me about it. I explained that it was a petition; then told her that two 8-year olds had signed my petition earlier and that they could sign it too. They ripped it from my hands, gathered in a circle on the sidewalk and began filling out the bandage stickers.

I told them that they could do this kind of work too. One of the young boys spoke up and said, “I would tie myself to a tree to fight for something.” So, I responded, “Well, what would you fight for?” He said, “I’d fight for the trees. I like trees.” I told him that there are environmental groups who do that kind of work everyday. I asked another young lady what she would fight for and she said, “I’d fight for the rainforest.”

They eventually got distracted and ran off. But my sincerest hope is that the seeds of activism have been planted and that one day, I’ll answer my door and see one of these kids advocating for a better America.

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Concerned about education

by Tim Robertson—Virginia

Last week, in an apartment complex in Herndon, I spoke with a gentleman who was a naturalized U.S. citizen from India. We engaged in a rather broad conversation about the issues as he became a Working America member, but he was constantly lamenting a problem he’d seen since moving to the U.S.

Specifically, he was frustrated that our education system is not preparing our children to compete on a global level. “Our children are our future, why are we not thinking about them?” he asked.

He then thanked me for my work.

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Inspiration

by Lauren Vlot—Pennsylvania

A woman answered the door and I began speaking to her about health care. She immediately invited me in and told me that she works so hard for her company, full time and they offer her nothing in the way of health care. Her children have no health care and one of them has a rare bone disease. She thanked me repeatedly, hugged me and told me that it’s people like me that give her hope. I expressed the inspiration I found in her and we both felt renewed. She agreed to volunteer for Working America to get her friends and family to sign our health care petition.

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