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Poverty and Children in the United States Essay

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Although the world has made strides in technical development, social development issues remain a challenge not only to the developing world but also to the developed world. Poverty is one of the social issues that have been tackled by successive government with littler mitigation of the situation. Even in situation where the rate of poverty seems declining, there is always a quick shift of the goalpost and the gains made are quickly eroded with successive change of government or due to the changing environment condition.

Even in developed countries like United States, poverty is a major challenge. The rate of poverty of poverty remains at double digit even with all the efforts to tackle the problem. Poverty has been confined to the low income segment of the society. Children are the most affected with a high percentage of poverty confined in children population. Due to their vulnerable nature, children have no option but to live with the current state of their life.

  Consequent researches have proved that children under the age of 18 are more likely to be impoverished.

At all time in our history the gap between the rich and the poor has been growing wide. Not that there are not effort to reduce this gap, but somehow the nature of our economies, free market and the role of the state remain unclear. To take a leaf from a popular book which was published in 1888 by Edward Bellamy, we have not reached the utopic situation that he had predicted in the book by 2000. He saw a society where class division were to be done away with, but our the gap between the rich and the poor is wide; where workers earn the same salary, but there is a big difference in our salary scale;  and a society where poverty would no longer exist, but our poverty levels are soaring all time high.  In his critical outlook at the 19teh century, Dr Lee failed to understand how wages were set at a state in which men and women would not be able to sustain the life of their children. He saw it as a conspiracy to deny children. (Reef, 2008)

Poverty in the United States

Poverty can be measured either as absolute or relative poverty. Absolute poverty can be defined as a situation where individuals lack all the basic needs for their survival.  This means that individuals lack the fundamental necessities for life like diet that meets their daily caloric and nutrient needs, shelter, clothing, safe drinking water, and others.   In the world those living under such condition are generally considered as poor.

On the other hand relative poverty is a measure that is adopted which goes with the standard of living in the society.  In this case individuals may not lack basic necessities like in absolute poverty but compared with the standards of life of those living around they may be considered deprived of some basic wants.  As the standard of living in a country rises, individual life may be changing as well. Therefore poverty in the United States may be measured or a relative poverty base since even most of those who are considered poor do not lack the fundamental necessities of their life. (NCCP, 2008)

In the United States, poverty is measured using the poverty line which has been set by the government.  This measure is set to assess how an individual access the basic goods and services which are usually taken for granted by   the society. however this  the threshold value for assessing poverty in the country is adjusted from time to time in line with the rate of inflation  mostly using consumer price index.  The measure for poverty used in the world and which has been adopted by the United Nations is two dollars a day. Individuals who live below the poverty line are those who live on less than two dollars a day.

Poverty eradication has been an ongoing war in the United States.  However, it was in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson officially declared a war on American social. This was war on domestic poverty which had rocked its all time high.  Since 1964 when this war was declared, there are hundreds of billions of dollars which have been spent in the war against poverty in the small and large American towns. The government has been providing free food, repaired all the dilapidated homes and furnished jobs for all those in need.

Hearts and Minds (2007) show that despite the government efforts, there are millions of Americans who are still living under poverty. American has not won the war. Statistics taken in 1996 showed that there were more Americans living in poverty compared to the statistics taken in 1964. This clearly illustrate that the country social-wellbeing had been declining to its lowest levels in the last century. 1996 statistics showed that 13.8 percent of Americans were living in poverty and large percentages were in the borderline. However, it was very astonishing that 48 %of this population was children. The statistics also revealed that;

· More than 15 million children or roughly one out of every four children in united state lived below the official poverty line

· 22% of Americans  who were under the age of 18 years and approximately 25% under that age of 12 years were hungry or were at the risk facing hunger

· for every 2,660 children who were born in poverty, about 276 of them died from the same poverty

· Children and families in poverty were the fasted growing group of homeless individual making up to about 40%.

Poverty in the United States has been changing with time and usually rhymes with the official measures taken to address the problem.  However, the official figures have been staggering at around 12 to 16% measured on the federal poverty line at any given time while for the last one decade, it is estimated that roughly 40 % of the population fall below the poverty line. The Bureau of Statistics has also revealed that about 58.5% Americans will spend at least one year of life in poverty or mostly between the age of 25 and 75. While the government continues to put more effort in fighting poverty, it is evident that United States has some of the highest official figures of poverty and the Human development Index ranks the country at the 12th position. This means that among the developed countries in the world, the country has the highest pre and post transfer poverty rates.

Institute for Research on Poverty (2008) shows that despite these staggering figures of poverty, the distribution of poverty among the race, gender, and age is varying. Going with the age it is evident that individual below the age of 18 years are mostly affected by poverty for example, in the 2006 statistics the rate of poverty among the minors was the highest among the industrialized nations in the world.  Research reveled that 21.9 % of all the minors in the population were living under poverty. However, racial difference was also evident with about 30% of African Americans minors living below the poverty line.  Research has also shown that there is a higher rate of child poverty in the rural areas compared to the suburban and urban areas.

Poverty and children

As we have seen, children are most affected by poverty in the country. A large percentage of children especially those living in families with low income are languishing in relative poverty compared to how other children in their neighborhood are living. Research has been documented that children living in low income neighborhood famously referred to as the ghettos experience a high rate of poverty compared to children in well up neighborhoods.

Hearts and Minds (2007) assert that for the last two decades, child poverty has been ranging between 10 and 20%.  Although there has been fluctuation and dispute of the official figures of child poverty, it is very clear that the figures have been on the upward trend.  During the 1990s, the official figures of poverty children declines slightly and the same decline was also recorded in welfare rolls. However, the hopes raised by this decline obscured three caveats:

· First the increase did not last and when we thought we had mad strides in 1990s, the figures started rising again from 2000.  The welfare safety net was also drastically reduced since 2000.

· Second, there has been an increase in severe poverty. This defines children who are living in families that live on less that half of the set federal line on poverty.

· Third, there are a very large number of children who are living below or near the poverty line, with a good percentage hanging on the border line. Currently  estimates show that this groups is roughly 37 % of American children that is composed of 42% American infant and toddlers, 58% American children, 62% of American Latino children

According to the recent estimates, more than 13 million Americans children are living in families which have income far below the federal poverty level which is currently set at $20,650 every year for a family of four.  Between 2000 and 2006 it has been shown that the number of children living in poverty increased by about 11% despite the government effort to mitigate the situation. However, it has been argued that since poverty is measured as relative poverty in United States, this could be attributed to the increase in income in the upper segment of the population. Therefore, this figure may be reflecting a growing disparity in the distribution of income rather than an increase in the official figure of children living in poverty. Despite the argument about the validity of these figures, it is evident that there are more than 1.2 million more children living under the federal poverty threshold today compared to 2000. (NCCP, 2008)

Fass and Cauthen (2007) stresses that these numbers are troubling, and they also tell us a part of the wide scale poverty situation in our country.  These figures tell us of a more flawed metric of economic hardship that our country is currently experiencing.  Research has proved that most families in the United States need twice more the federal poverty level threshold in order to make the ends met.  Again here we can see a very clear picture portraying how our official figures are not rhyming with the situation on the ground which tells of a growing disparity in the distribution of resources.  According to the federal threshold level for 2006, children who were living in families below this level which was roughly $41,000 for a family of four were regarded as low income.  More than 39% of children in the nation, about 28 million lived in low income families in 2006.

What do these figures reflect? We can give different interpretation from the figures which we have reviewed so far. However, it is very clear that there is a growing rate of child poverty in America. As expressed by child advocacy groups this is a big concern to us especially when we consider that children will make our society tomorrow.  We have toiled to create a developed country and our fear is that we may be slowly slipping to a third world society if we have to continue with the trend.

Furthermore the growing number of children living below the poverty line is a reflection of the trend in the large society. This clearly reflects the growing disparities in income distribution. As we saw with the disputed figures, it is evident that the main reason which we an attribute to the growing disparity in the official poverty rate figures shows a growing income in the upper segment of the society while the low income families have reduced their level of income or remained in the same statues.  This is a growing concern considered that fact that about 1% of the Americans currently earn twice as much as the 38% of the American in the bottom of the ladder. (NCCP, 2008)

There is also a growing barrier to upward mobility.  This is manifested not only in the rising child poverty but also in the preclusive real estate and the rising rate of inflation. There is a growing cost of health care, energy, and others. Healthcare for children is a concern in the country with the No Child Left Behind program struggling to meet its objectives and provide affordable healthcare cost to American children. It is still estimated that there are more children in low income families who are not insured with any medical insurance, and who still fail to meet the entry criteria to No Child Left Behind program.

Gussow (1994) estimate that about 13 million children in the united states still live in  homes with low access to food supply.  Researches have established a direct link between lack of enough food supply, malnutrition and poor health status among children. Although there are conflicting figures on the rate of malnutrition in the country, it is evident that children from the low income families have been experiencing one from of malnutrition or the other. While the prevailing data gives very little evidence of existence of extreme hunger, there is enough data to suggest that majority of American children living in poverty have deficient of one mineral or the other. (NCCP, 2008)

Miller and Koreman (1994) shows that the situation is compounded by the fact that we have been caught up in double tragedy of malnutrition. While a good segment of American children are living in relative poverty, the upper segment is living in affluence with a high rate of lifestyle disease. However, data fails to distinguish between the two factors although it is evident that malnutrition problems like overweight and obesity are prevalent in both the affluent and the poor segment of the society. While some studies suggests that low income family children have a higher rate of overweight and obesity, other studies have shown contradicting results. Whichever the case we have to understand that over nutrition or under nutrition both express a health challenge manifested in American children.


Despite the government effort to deal with poverty, child poverty in United States remains a challenge. The trend is worrying despite the efforts made we are slipping to a dangerous situation. The population of children living below the federal poverty line has been on the rise. It is time that the government realized that this is a problem we are facing and therefore come up with strategies to address it. The country need to take changes in the social system in order to address the plight of children well in providing of basic necessities. Some programs like No Child Left Behind need to be reviewed in order to accommodate more children. Unless we take the problem of our children as ours, the problem of child poverty will stay here with us.

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