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Rising Level Of Child Poverty "Ignored" By Candidates

Child poverty is increasing, but you wouldn't know that just from following the presidential race, children's advocates say. (Woodley Wonderworks/Flickr)
Child poverty is increasing, but you wouldn't know that just from following the presidential race, children's advocates say. (Woodley Wonderworks/Flickr)
July 25, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Given how little attention it's getting from candidates, children in poverty is a hidden crisis, say advocates.

According to the most recent complete numbers from Kids Count, more children in West Virginia and across the nation are growing up in poverty now than during the Great Recession.

But Bruce Lesley, president of the children’s advocacy group First Focus, says in the first 10 Democratic and Republican presidential debates, only one question out of 500 was specific to the lives children in this country now live.

"Someone will say I care about terrorism and we need to do it for our children,” he relates. “That may be true but there are huge issues facing our children directly. So where's the big debate?"

About 20 percent of U.S. children live below the poverty line, a rate sharply higher than adults.

The number of West Virginia children in poverty rose by about 7 percent between 2007 and 2014.

Folks working on children's issues say they have trouble drawing attention to the topic during political fights and budget battles.

Lesley says even though childhood poverty is increasing, federal spending devoted to fighting it has fallen in recent years.

"If they would engage in the conversation, I think they would find a very receptive audience among the public but because kids don't vote, they don't have PACs, they're not donating to campaigns, they're not on top of mind, and so it's a huge problem that we face," Lesley says.

Although the issue doesn't always draw a lot of attention, Julia Isaacs, a senior fellow with the Urban Institute, says it can be hugely important.

"Children growing up in poverty tend not to do as well in school, which means that then when they're adults they may be in poverty,” she points out. “And so one reason we try to break the cycle of poverty is so we don't have inter-generational poverty. "



Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV