Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister
Put in more stark terms, out of 606,325 San Bernardino County children 20 percent live below the federal poverty line. About 8 percent of children lives in extreme poverty, which means their families have an income of less than one-half of the federal poverty threshold.
These are some of the grim findings from a flurry of new reports on child poverty. A report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book showed overall improvements in child well-being that began in the late 1990s has stalled thanks in large part to the economic downturn.
Nearly 1.5 million California children participate in the federally funded WIC food stamp program.
The majority of participants are Latinos 78 percent followed by whites at 8.8 percent and African Americans at 5.5 percent.
The news is worse in San Bernardino County, where researchers predict that 35% of children will live in impoverished households by 2012. This prediction is especially troubling as the recession continues to force more middleclass Americans to seek financial assistance for the first time, further straining the already fragile social safety net programs that many children and their families rely on for survival.
Children Now, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group released similar findings: about 66 percent of African American children live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty level.
The poverty numbers are important because a child's economic conditions affect their health and development, according to the report. For instance, families of children living in poverty are also having problems providing healthy foods, putting their children's nutritional needs at risk. About 52 percent of children living in poverty lived in "foodinsecure” households.
“We won’t be able to assess the full impact of the economic downturn on children and families for a number of years,” said Laura Beavers, national KIDS COUNT coordinator at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The economic data that the Census Bureau will release later this year will give a better picture of family economic well-being in the recession. However, even data from 2008 that was collected before the recession took hold shows economic conditions were worsening for kids.”
Based on trend data released by the Casey Foundation, the rate of children living in poverty in 2008 was 18 percent, indicating that 1 million more children were living in poverty in that year than in 2000.
One-third of Inland Empire public school principals reported increased eligibility for free or reduced lunches/ breakfasts and homelessness among their students, with several of them indicating they had never before seen homelessness in their schools.
Recent findings by other groups that monitor children’s health and wellbeing also reflect a dire state of affairs. A report by the California non-profit, Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), which compiled data from school districts throughout the state, shows that homelessness among California’s school children has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. In 2008-09, more than 288,000 children were homeless and attending school. This represents a 27 percent increase over the 2007-08 year.
“Half of those children are Latino,” said Michael Herald, a legislative advocate with WCLP. “It’s pretty apparent the economy is a big driving factor.”
Dire as the situation is, California’s children could face harder times if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to reduce eligibility and funding for CalWORKs (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Children) program is implemented.
The program is a safety net preventing many families from joining the ranks of the homeless. Last year, when California’s budget deficit grew to a staggering $27 billion, many safety net programs were either cut or about to be cut.
Elimination of summer school programs in many districts has resulted in more widespread hunger among California children. “For many students, it meant not having two nutritious meals each day,” Herald said, pointing out that schools and social services cannot be considered in isolation.
“You have to think holistically about these things,” he said.
“Schools are more than just what happens in classrooms.”
“We think that even if it is only a grant cut (to CalWORKs), it will make more families poorer, more children homeless and increase cost in foster care and other child welfare services,” asserted Herald.
The greatest increase in per capita use of the CalWORKs program has been in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, where “poverty seems to be very intensely located,” he said.
A principal in San Bernardino, where foreclosure rates are as high as 1 in 33 homes, reported long wait times for families referred to public agencies and nonprofits for support and help, according WCLP data.
Collectively, the flurry of new data paints a sobering picture: Despite California now being the 8th largest economy in the world, it’s poor and working people are suffering more than ever. With the increasing cost of housing, electricity, and health care along with the cutting of thousands of jobs, it is becoming harder and harder for children to envision a bright future.