(Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
A recently released study that found 1 in 5 children in America live in poverty has Christian advocacy groups urging Congress to not cut financial safety net programs while attempting to reduce the national debt.
The study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation revealed that the official child poverty rate in the United States increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, essentially reversing an upward trend from two decades ago.
Organizations such as Sojourners, which is considered the largest network of social justice Christians, want Americans to let Congress know they should not cut programs that benefit the poor such as child care subsidies, food stamps and housing assistance.
Sojourners spokesperson Tim King said the study results showing an economic downward spiral when it comes to children and families for the last decade is very troubling.
“When you look at the report, in the 1990s we were headed in the right direction,” King told The Christian Post. “Child poverty was decreasing by a lot of indicators. We were on a track that worked. Now, since 2000, we are headed in the exact opposite direction. Now we are seeing the consequence of that 18 percent rise.”
King said that the study results should prompt Christians to get into political action.
“First, this should be a wake-up call to every church and every Christian across the country that we are not doing enough as Christians. Secondly, this needs to be a wake-up call to our elected officials,” he said.
“Right now there’s been a lot of discussion about budgets in Washington, D.C., and budgets are moral documents. They show the priorities of a country and of a nation. Right now, the decisions that our political leaders are making don’t say very good things about our priorities,” he added.
The study showed that in 2009, 42 percent (31 million) of children in the United States lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line, or $43,512 per year for a family of four. "The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s," stated Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Data at the Casey Foundation, in a press release.
“That number is too high,” Chris LaTondresse, from the Alliance to End Hunger, told CP. “One in five children in America living in poverty is unfit for any caring society when we also have close to 50 million Americans going to bed hungry several times a month and 17 million of them children.”
“We have to ask the question, ‘Is this the kind of society we want to live in?’ At a time when Congress is trying to balance the budget, do we want them to do so on the backs of the ones Jesus called the ‘least of these,’” LaTondresse asked.
The study also showed that the recession has had a bigger impact on child well-being at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Researchers concluded that low-income children will likely suffer academically, economically and socially even long after their parents have recovered.
Analysts at Bread for the World Institute told CP that they agree with other advocacy groups about the need for Christians to make their voices heard on this issue.
“For us this [report] just reinforces what we have been saying about the devastating impact that the economic downturn has had on low-income families,” said Mannik Sakayan, the senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.
On its website, Bread for the World posted the Casey Foundation’s recommendation of six ways for policymakers to support struggling families:
- Strengthen and modernize unemployment insurance and promote foreclosure prevention and remediation efforts.
- Preserve and strengthen existing programs that supplement poverty-level wages, offset the high cost of child care, and provide health insurance coverage for parents and children.
- Promote savings and asset protection and help families gain financial knowledge skills.
- Promote responsible parenthood and ensure that mothers-to-be receive prenatal care.
- Ensure that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school.
- Promote reading proficiency by the end of third grade.
Bread for the World Domestic Policy Analyst Amelia Kegan echoed the call by Christian advocacy groups, urging Congress not to drop or cut essential programs.
“As Congress looks for ways to reduce the deficit, our focus has really been on the importance of not cutting nutrition programs, not cutting for hungry and poor people. These programs are not contributing to our deficit,” Kegan said. “We are asking that they really look at the amount of hardship that’s out there and that families continue to struggle in the wake of the most devastating recession that we’ve seen since the depression.”