Here in the United States, child poverty rates are at the highest rate since World War II, surpassing the Depression-era minimum wage, and mounting housing, health care and food insecurity. Between 2012 and 2016, the government’s social safety net assistance, including Medicaid, food stamps and emergency food assistance, made a difference to nearly 7.5 million American children by covering nearly 57 percent of their family’s discretionary income. That assistance added an average of $2,400 per year to child poverty rates.
Nearly 60 percent of children living in poverty are living in a household with no parents working. Many are unable to obtain the health care they need, while others experience serious financial difficulties because of high costs of rent, car repair, child care, utilities, transportation, food and the cost of a college education. In some cases, a parent’s only source of income is assistance from government assistance.
Those who are employed are also experiencing barriers, including lack of health care, overtime pay and re-entry into the workforce following a disability or sick leave. In order to generate jobs that can employ a greater number of Americans, we need to address barriers to employability. One area is ensuring that employers truly value workers and are willing to invest in providing high-quality benefits to employees. Companies are ready to hire, but much of the hiring in recent years has been concentrated in low-wage work, where employers are making just enough to pay the minimum wage. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta recently released its most recent report on “alternative minimum wage” practices in the United States, in which we found that 30 percent of all U.S. job growth has been in the lowest income sectors since 2000.
Without effective work programs, productivity growth will continue to be driven by a changing business and demographic dynamic, raising the specter of an American recession. Reasonable investments are not being made in maintaining and expanding the U.S. work force. That’s a concern and an opportunity for the parties to come together and make the necessary investments that we need to create an economically equitable nation, now and in the future.
It’s vital to intervene early to prevent the harms of growing up in poverty and help to better prepare the next generation for prosperity. We need sustained investments, rooted in shared values and value systems, in order to rise above inequity and leave behind a whole generation of Americans who are more likely to be impoverished.
It is time for us to take seriously that all of our communities, regardless of race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic background, deserve equal opportunities, mutual respect and an opportunity to be secure in the pursuit of our shared dreams for the future.
Michelle Rhee is the president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Boston and MassINC, and the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools. Linda Darling-Hammond is professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and the author of “Lessons from Head Start.” They wrote this for InsideSources.com.