Currently, 23.1 percent of America’s children are being raised in poverty. That rate puts child poverty in America at a higher rate than in Latvia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia.
It seems inconceivable that a wealthy nation such as ours could host such a dubious distinction. While no one can deny that poverty is advancing in America, there is a substantive divide among Americans regarding what should be done to address the issue.
Phrases such as “haves” and “have nots” or “can” or “can nots” have made their way in to the lexicon. Some believe that if you find yourself mired in a cycle of multi-generational poverty you need only to try a little harder and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” This camp offers that the individual is responsible for him or herself in every way, not the government, not your neighbor, only the individual.
Still others believe that the purpose of government is to address the needs of the people and especially those that are impoverished. This camp measures the civility and decency of America by the support it affords the most vulnerable Americans.
While the debate between these two camps wages their respective campaigns, another ominous indicator has come to light in America. Remember when George and Wheezy Jefferson moved up to the East Side and affluence, they were “upwardly mobile.”
Today, the Jefferson’s might not have had that opportunity to better their lives and the lives of their children. Recent research has found that 42 percent of American males raised in the bottom fifth of income, remained there as adults compared to 25 percent in Denmark and 30 percent in England. Only 8 percent of American males who started out at the wage bottom rose to an upper salary position while 14 percent of males in Demark reached higher salaries and 12 percent in England.
The research also has shown that families that save are more upwardly mobile. Poor families with low incomes often find saving next to impossible. When the car breaks down, medical expenses arise or other essential spending must take place, credit cards with high interest rates become the only option. It is not hard to see how people can enter this impossible debt cycle if credit is the only available option. Of high saving low income families, 71 percent were able to move out of poverty in a generation, unfortunately the number of poor families achieving high savings is very small.
While we have no control over who our parents are therefore no control over our economic status, I do not believe that we can turn a blind eye to so many American children being raised in poverty. Oklahoma Coach, Barry Switzer so famously said, “some people are born on third base and often go through life believing that they were the ones that hit the triple that put them there.” In other words, if you have it pretty good, show a little humility, share a little of your good fortune with those that don’t have it so good.
Clearly, moving up in America is much more difficult than it was thirty years. Still, I would like to believe that a person can still improve their lot in America with perseverance and hard work. Millions of American youth are also counting on this possibility.
Remember, all kids count.