Each year I find myself moved by the release of “The State of American Children” report, created and published by the Children’s Defense Fund. The 2014 version just came out, and can be read here. I think it should be mandatory reading for people who care about any combination of faith, justice, equality, hope, or love (that should be most of us, right?!!?)
I am a firm believer that as the most prosperous nation in the world, we should be concerned with the well being of children on every part of our planet. Therefore any attention drawn to the plight of those caught in the cycle of global poverty is certainly important as well. What reports like this remind us though, is that it is not just global poverty that we need to keep an eye on, but poverty right here in our own backyard as well.
This year’s report makes the bold assertion that the neglect of children in poverty may be the single greatest threat to our national security. That might seem like overkill to some, but consider some of the alarming statistics covered here:
*Children are the poorest age group in America, and the younger they are the poorer they are.
*Every fifth child in America is poor (let that settle in – 1 out of every 5 children in America is poor!!!) – 16.1 million
*Every tenth child in America is extremely poor – 7.1 million
Those statistics alone should be enough to rattle our collective moral compass. But for those who need to see the potential devastation this could bring not only for those children, but for all of us, consider a couple more:
*In five years children of color who are disproportionately poor, nearly 1 in 3, will be a majority of all children in America and of our future workforce, military and consumers.
*Millions of them are unready for school, poorly educated and unprepared to face the future. Nearly 60 percent of all our children and more than 80 percent of our Black and nearly 75 percent of our Latino children cannot read or compute at grade level in fourth and eighth grade and so many drop out of school before graduating.
*Seventy-five percent of young people ages 17-24 cannot get into the military because of poor literacy, health or prior incarceration.
*Only 78 percent of students graduated from public high school in four years in 2010. That rate was 66 percent for Black students, 69 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students and 71 percent for Hispanic students.
*Over half a million public school students dropped out of grades 9-12 during the 2009-2010 school year. This will cost taxpayers in the future billions of dollars a year in added benefits and services and foregone income tax revenue.
This is a huge justice issue. Alaska, for instance, was the only state in the nation to equitably fund education by spending 40 percent more for each student in its poorest school districts than its richest in 2007-2008, the most recent year of data. Thirteen states spent more on students in their richest districts than their poorest districts.
What should we do about that?
I have lots of thoughts, and even more convictions, and I will share a few of those over the next few posts.
For now let me finish with the precious words of Jesus, who seemed to have an incredibly soft spot for children:
“Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these.” (Matthew 19.4)