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Rising child poverty rates could be a 'taste' of what's ahead

A new Census report shows child poverty up since 2007. With many benefits for the poor – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit – expiring at the end of the year, things could get worse.

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“Because many of these forms of added assistance are expiring, the rise in poverty shown here unfortunately may be a taste of what is to come,” says Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington. “We estimate the programs overall – and other recent initiatives – are keeping about 7 million people above the poverty line.”

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According to the government, the official poverty line for a family of four is $22,314 a year in income.

At the same time as federal programs are in jeopardy, state and local budgets are also being cut, notes Mr. Sherman. “We are seeing cuts in social services like we have not seen in recent memory,” he says.

One state with a significant number of poor children is Florida, which ranks fourth in terms of school-age children in poverty, says Beth Davalos of the Families in Transition (FIT) program in Seminole County, which lies south of Orlando.

In Seminole County, the number of homeless schoolchildren, some 1,200 students, is up 30 percent over a year ago, according to Ms. Davalos.

A recent episode of CBS's "60 Minutes" profiled the FIT program, focusing on three families who lived in their vehicles while their children attended school. The Metzger family, for example, included a 16-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy living with their dad, an out-of-work carpenter, in the back of a truck. All their food was canned, and their only restrooms were in gasoline stations. Since the show aired, the FIT website has set up a way for people to contribute to the families.

“What is happening here is that the shelters are at 100 percent of capacity and people living with other people – sleeping on sofas and floors – can only do it for so long,” says Ms. Davalos. This leads them to either sleeping on the streets or in their vehicles.

The FIT program has some money to help families, but the money comes with certain stipulations. “The first question we ask is what is your income?” says Davalos. “If you don’t have some income, you are not eligible for funding,” she explains. “We are not going to be giving money to people who are going to be in the same situation a few months later.”

Davalos says homelessness is especially tough on children. Two weeks ago, Davalos found a family at a gas station. They had just been evicted from a motel where they had been living and had no money. They were still taking their 5 year old to kindergarten but the child was upset.

“That little 5 year old was so troubled over where it would be sleeping, it was not thinking about 2 + 2,” says Davalos, who put them back in the motel where they had been.

“It’s very stressful for kids with adult worries when they are supposed to be playing, dreaming, and learning,” she says.

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