We know what to do to end child poverty if we want to in rich America. The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that the number of children in poverty declined slightly again for the second year, but that children — shamefully — are still our poorest age group. More than 13.2 million children — 18 percent of all children — were poor in 2016. Almost 70 percent of our poor children were children of color.
Census data also showed the positive benefits government programs have for poor children with data from the Supplemental Poverty Measure which tracks the impact of government programs on family resources. It showed 1.5 million children escaped poverty with the help of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps); 1.05 million with the help of housing subsidies; and 4.4 million with the help of the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and other refundable credits. And I could go on. The bottom line is we know steps we can take right now to end child poverty as we approach the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s and Robert F. Kennedy’s Poor People’s Campaign and call to end poverty and hunger. I ask that we commit to doing so by ending poverty beginning with every poor child. This means stopping the budget ravaging at the federal level and in states and localities of programs we know can help feed, house, clothe, educate and prepare our most vulnerable children for the future and help more families work at decent wages. And we must stop the moral obscenity of politicians pitting the rich against the poor and proposing more tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans by stealing from survival programs for our poorest Americans, including children, to pay for them.
My deepest wish and prayer is for Dr. King’s dream to end poverty to become reality in our times beginning with children right now. They have only one childhood.
God help us to end poverty in our time.
The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep, no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask, and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer hunger or get sicker and sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because you don’t have another dime or a car, money or health insurance.
The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of somebody else’s children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.
The poverty of having a job which does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you’ll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.
The poverty of losing your job, running out of unemployment benefits, and having no other help in sight.
The poverty of working all your life caring for your own children and having to start all over again caring for the grandchildren you love.
The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a day care center, and taking home $300 a week — or a month — if you’re lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation — having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you’re living or dead.
The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others.
The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, of weak will and tiny vision, of big meetings and small actions, of loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing, sacrificing nothing, struggling with others for nothing.
The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts of life and children and family and freedom and home and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.
The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.
The poverty of addiction to more and more things, drugs, drink, work, self, violence, power, fleeting fame, and an unjust status quo.
The poverty of fear which keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.
The poverty of convenient ignorance about the needs of those around you and of despair and cynicism.
God help us end poverty in our time, in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises — inside and out — physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that you intend.
Don’t make any excuses for not speaking out for justice for poor children. Make the difference that you can. So I add a short closing prayer.
O God, I am not smart enough to debate monetary, fiscal, or budget policy with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office, or President Trump and Congressional leaders. But I am a citizen and I know injustice when I see it. I know You told us when we give to the poor we lend to You. So when we take from the poor we steal from You.
Help me to stand up courageously against unjust tax and budget policies at every level of government which increase benefits for those who have much and decrease benefits for those who have little. Help me to stand up for political choices that close the gap between the rich and the poor and to stand up against choices which widen that gap.
Help me to try to do what You would do.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.