42% of American Kids Live in Low Income Homes

With the recession in a supposed retreat, sobering statistics on American children and poverty point to a growing problem no one wants to acknowledge. 42% of the nationís children live in low-income homes and a fifth of those children live in poverty.

Alarming Numbers

Whatís even worse is that since 2000, the number of children living in poverty has risen by 33 percent, even though the total number of children in the U.S. only rose by 3 percent in the same time period. UNICEFís 2007 comparison of child poverty levels of the 24 wealthiest countries in the world placed America dead last, which should make people wonder quite a bit about the nationís priorities. However, it doesn’t appear many people do.

Judging from public policies and government programs on the budget chopping block Ė funding for K-12 education and Medicaid for example Ė itís clear that Americaís children only matter when their future earning potential (and ability to prop entitlement programs via taxes) is in doubt.

How Did This Happen?

Why so little concern for Americaís most vulnerable?

Perhaps it is rooted not just a little in racism and the persistent, and completely inaccurate, portrayal of the working poor as lazy, irresponsible welfare junkies.

Religious traditions in the United States long ago managed to sow seeds that painted the poor as responsible for their poverty in spite of the fact that racism and sexism are more directly responsible for the treadmill to which most poor families find themselves tethered.†

Images of single mothers having babies for welfare gain and lazy entitlement-addicted poor have propelled many a politician to office and is a staple topic of the GOP-inspired talking heads of television and radio. But the reality is that lack of affordable child care, a stagnating minimum wage, limited or no public transportation options, and an inflexible work week that refuses to recognize parental obligations are more likely factors.

While it is true that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans have twice the poverty rate of whites and Asians, the fact is that white children make up the largest and fastest growing low-income group.

What the British Did

Great Britain faced similar issues in 1994 and used a combination of welfare-to-work programs, implementing a national minimum wage that puts the United States to shame and a combination of tax reductions and credits that made employment a viable option for those mired in poverty.

The Brits also recognized the value of creating programs that directly impacted young children. They doubled maternity leave. Child-care assistance programs were started, and businesses instituted flexible work schedules for parents of young children.

As a result, the percentage of single parents in the workforce increased from 45 percent to 57 percent between 1997 and 2008. Their child poverty rate went from 30 percent in 1994 to just 12 percent today.

Politicians and education reformers would have Americans believe that living in poverty is not an obstacle for children that a little hard work and bootstrap yanking couldn’t fix, but the British example illustrates otherwise. Without public commitment of some kind, poverty breeds more poverty.

What Do You Think?

Is there a good reason to allow American kids to live in poverty? Where should our priorities be? What can be done to reverse this alarming trend? Share your ideas and stories.

Related Stories:†

Rush Limbaugh Jokes That Hungry Children Should Dumpster Dive

Ending Poverty and Hunger by 2015: Can It be Done?

Houses of Bottles: A Green Way to Fight Poverty

Photo credit:†Kids in the Overpass by Lance Neilson


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

Mary Johnston, I commend you and your husband for your responsible behavior, and I believe you, when you say that you have seen neighbors, abusing the system. There always have been, and there always will be, cheats.

BUT ... there is a real and growing problem with poverty in this country. And it's not due to the laziness of the citizenry. When 42%!!! of children live in low-income homes, and a fifth of those live in poverty, ... something is VERY WRONG with our American system of free markets. Of the 24 wealthiest countries, America is dead-last?!!

Racism and stereotypes of "welfare" mothers are a big reason for the proposed chopping blocks in social services. When was this article written? Britain did it correctly, but now, with their conservative government chopping services, just like our conservatives want to do, the poor are being thrown away, as if they aren't people, as if they don't exist.

Free enterprise doesn't exist in America, as it used to. When 40% of the wealth is controlled by 1% of the population, there is no chance for people to rise again to middle class status. Changes, including regulations to curb greed, need to be made, to begin to even-out the playing field.

Mary Johnston
Mary Johnston7 years ago

I have one comment to make about those in poverty. I will state beforehand that I am not including those who have been laid off, had a death in the family, or other unforseeable circumstance. I am talking about those who are low income and still choose to live beyond their means, therefore keeping them in poverty.

My husband and I have been considered "low income" most of our adult lives. We finally moved out of that category last year only to have the poverty line risen, which brings us back into the considered poverty line. We do need assistance at time (Food Stamps), though I would prefer to never have to use them. We both make just over minimum wage at around 30-35 hours a week. We live in a 3 bedroom house and are able to pay all of our bills. It is really tight sometimes, but we do what we have to do. We do not go out all the time. We do not live beyond our means. We do not have credit cards. For this we are punished by hearing that we can't get a car we can afford because we do not have enough credit.

Our daughters do not get everything they want, much to their dissatisfaction. Not that they would if we were better off. Many people I know down here get welfare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. They are also at the club every weekend getting drunk. They buy their kids the most expensive things so they don't feel left out. Live within your mean. You difine your situation. It does not define you.

bob m.
bob m7 years ago

That's called comfort food Maury; that's how the game is played.
You know; the happy pyramid on the $$ with the eyeball.
they're raised in fast food land believing they might someday have some value as human beings.
They eat the candy and smoke the weed to forget; and to pretend that people care.
This is loosers land Maury; out where they pour the blacl oil from yesterdays races and the winos binge.
A real meal is someone elses game dude.
Your whole system is constructed to rest on the misery of your loosers.
Why bitch at their sad habits.
One loss at the wheel and presto cooker. There you are.
Who the hell can afford to shop conveniece anyway (highway robbery.
Just think...three loaves of white death in the bag and you get
"taken care of for life at a hundred grand per perp".
Just think...you could be a star.

Maury Rhodes
Maury Rhodes7 years ago

I work in a convenience store where people on food stamps buy candy, chips, soda, ice cream and just plain junk food. This is food that should not be allowed. Oh and then they buy blunt raps to roll their dope in. But they can't afford food.

Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley7 years ago

We need to made more aware of this national problem/digrace and hope that we do not become immune/numb to this problem to such an extent that we do nothing about it.

Tamila mendoza
Tamila mendoza7 years ago

US needs to do what Britian did

Irena Y.
Irena Y.7 years ago

I am really surprised to read this article and, to be honest, the title grabbed my attention with its incredibility! I come from Eastern Europe - one of the parts of the European continent ever considered as one of its poorest ones! I´m 40 now but I still remember that during the socialism we used to have free education - including University!, free medical care, the State was taking care of everyvody - well, nearly! at least there were no paupers, ALL children were covered with health and education programmes, and their parents had jobs! Although the overall standard of life was low, we all had more or less the same level of it (excluding the Communist party leaders, of course) and it was enough. To us, America has always been an example of a wealthy and economically very advanced state where everybody is entitled to right of job, decent living, education etc. Listening to my friends who live in America now, and reading articles like this one, I wonder where is the economicaly successful America now? - the example we used to copy and try to achieve! Our system of guaranteed quality of life is now long gone and people in my country live overwhelmed with fear, lack of basic resources and incomes for living and the impossibility to send their children to school! thank you, America, for the "good example" we followed...

Maria S.
Maria S7 years ago

Thank you !
People need to help one another.
We can all make a differens to someone.
Recylking things and help people in the near area.
I belive in the pay it forward way.
We need to help others and learn them to help someone in return.
Blessings to you who care !
Love and light be with you allways !

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

So Sad

Ola C.
Ola C7 years ago

I also, am not surprised at the statistics. Even though the banks and wall street are now stabilized(supposedly). Unemployment is still high in this country. Welfare doesn't really exist anymore. There is only a limited time on it and most people receiving it have to prove they are looking for work in order to get it. So the republicans and conservatives using it are only using it basically as scare tactics. Also, there are simply no jobs to be had so it ends up being a vicious cycle. Before anyone starts on by saying you can always get work at Mcdonald's or other fast food joints those jobs are also disappearing fast. Even then, they don't pay enough to support a single person, much less a family. What frightens me about the article is parents who are stressed out about trying to care of the physical needs of the kids end up frustrated and have domestic violence issues. I am also wondering about our nation. If we don't take care of our mothers or children; what does that say about us?