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Presidential Priorities: What About Poor Children?

About one in five American children lives in poverty, and yet little has been said about it in the presidential campaigns so far. (Pixabay)
About one in five American children lives in poverty, and yet little has been said about it in the presidential campaigns so far. (Pixabay)

July 27, 2016

LANSING, Mich. — As the presidential campaigns ramp up, some experts say one of the country's biggest black eyes is being ignored. Child poverty has worsened in many states, including Michigan, since the end of the Great Recession.

An estimated one in five children comes from a family living below the poverty threshold, meaning they struggle to meet such basic needs as food, safe housing and affordable child care. Bruce Lesley, who heads the bipartisan children's advocacy group First Focus, said child poverty is a critical matter that candidates should prioritize.

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

Lesley cited a study of the first 10 presidential debates which found that only one of the 501 questions asked were specific to kids.

Poor kids are at greater risk for health problems and negative educational and life outcomes, according to poverty researcher Julia Isaacs with the Urban Institute. And UNICEF ranks the U.S. as 34th out of 35 nations in dealing with child poverty, which Isaacs said is another reason it cannot be ignored.

"It's that combination of factors: the long-term effects on kids, the fact that we are a wealthy nation, and the fact that poverty rates are lower for other ages,” Isaacs said. “[This] is why it does seem like we could do more to reduce poverty among children."

Michigan's child poverty rate is 23 percent, about 21 percent higher than in 2007, according to recent Kids Count data.

Families with young children are historically the last to recover after a recession, Lesley said. And they are currently facing difficulties no other generation has faced.

"They have much higher student debt than ever before, they're finding a hard time finding really good-paying jobs, minimum wage has been stagnant for years, child care is enormously expensive, housing costs are up,” Lesley said. “So in every aspect of their lives, as they're trying to make ends meet, they're really struggling."

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI