A committee mandated by the U.S. Congress created a report on child poverty to inform policy that would cut the poverty rate in half.
University of Wisconsin public affairs and economics professor Timothy Smeeding served on the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to create the report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty.
In December 2015, Congress enacted an appropriations bill charging the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine with researching links between poverty and well-being, analyzing current poverty-reducing program effectiveness, and recommending policies and programs to cut the current childhood poverty rate in half in just 10 years.
Smeeding said other nations around the world have prioritized their children’s future more so than the U.S., including the U.K. which cut its childhood poverty rates in half in just seven years from 2001-08. Meanwhile, the U.S. cut childhood poverty rates in half in 49 years from 1967-2016.
“Other nations have made it a priority,” Smeeding said. “We judge nations by the way they treat their children, and if so, we’re not doing very well.”
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According to the report, 13 percent, or 9.6 million, U.S. children are living below the poverty line. Beyond that are another 3 percent who are experiencing deep poverty.
All of these children are at risk of falling victim to the many adverse effects of poverty. According to the report, there are many connections between poverty and well-being. Children living in poverty are less likely to succeed in the classroom or to stay healthy, Smeeding said.
“When we see children grow up in poverty, their brains are not as well developed, they have less capacity to learn and they’re more likely to be sick,” Smeeding said.
The state of Wisconsin is no stranger to child poverty.
Smeeding suggested that there were many ways to ease the effects of poverty in Wisconsin, such as offering affordable childcare and transportation systems that would allow parents to work and support their families.
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Smeeding stressed the importance of closing education disparities and not taking away programs that help children. While he believes the Evers administration hopes to accomplish many things that would ease poverty, he worried Republican legislators will not support it.
Smeeding said Republicans voted for former Gov. Scott Walker to be able to veto the evaluation of a program which forces single parents to go to work if their youngest child is of school age and would go into effect in October.
Smeeding added that as a result, a lot of people will lose access to the food stamp program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, causing children to be hungrier and less healthy.
Local non-profit organizations, like the Community Action Coalition, which serves Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha counties, are also working to reduce poverty. CAC’s mission is “to develop economic and social capacities of individuals, families and communities,” according to their website.
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To strive toward their mission, CAC has many programs that assist in food security, housing support and clothing for those in need. While they currently do not have any programs specifically tailored to children, they use existing programs to assist many families.
CAC Executive Director Jim Schroeder said their housing program focuses on keeping children in the same area in order to provide them with stability in their personal lives as well as stability in their educational career.
Schroeder is looking forward to adding new programs in the next round of strategic planning. The goal of this is to keep stable housing for children in the same elementary school district. Schroeder said studies show children do better in school when there are no unplanned moves from one school to the next.
“That stability is important for a child,” Schroeder said. “So we’re already doing something in that regard. But in the next round of strategic planning, we’ll be looking at other ways to positively impact specifically children.”
Schroeder said unlike our neighboring states, Wisconsin has not done much at the state level to combat homelessness and that a majority of CAC’s funding is federal.
But Schroeder remains hopeful that with Gov. Tony Evers intention to chair a homelessness task force and new bills currently working their way through Wisconsin legislature, there will be more of a focus and devotion of resources to addressing homelessness.
While the programs CAC provides are vital in helping families and there are many negative effects of poverty, Schroeder said the most important thing the CAC provides for struggling families is hope.
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Smeeding hopes people will be able to look beyond the cost of programs and packages that will aid in cutting poverty rates, as the benefits far outweigh the costs. Lifting children and families out of poverty now creates the possibility of success in the future, he said.
Children will grow up, get an education, work and support their families on their own, Smeeding said. They will pay taxes — including social security taxes to support the rest of us. Ending poverty is truly an investment, he said.
“It’s an investment in the future,” Smeeding said.