Tightening the Belt
- Created on Thursday, 18 August 2011 19:50
During the recession and over the past few year, the metaphor of families tightening their belts, has become ubiquitous in political discourse. We hear it on both sides of the aisle as a refrain, calling for more government responsibility and reform to accomodate for lower income. But this metaphor falls flat when we look at both its fiscal accuracy and who we are tightening the belt on, because not everyone in the family is being squeezed equally.
In the United State there are 31million children living in poverty, about 1 in 5, and when you break that statistic down by various racial demographics, the disparities are stark. This week the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their annual Kids Count Data Book, which track statistics relating to child well-being in the US. This year's report reflects the impact of the recession and subsequent policy and government budget decisions that were intended to ease the pain felt by citizens.
In Minnesota, while we fare better than most states, 14% of our children are living in poverty (or 172,134 children), which represents a growing problem. In the past decade, child poverty has risen 56%. These statistics become more alarming when we consider that the federal poverty line for a family of four is about $22,000 a year. The federal poverty thresholds were established in the 1960's and were largely based on the cost of basic food. While the threshold has been adjusted for inflation over the years, the measure has not been reevaluated to consider the growing costs of health care, housing, childcare, etc.
With child poverty on the rise, it would seem logical that we invest in improving the situations that lead to child poverty (like providing child care assistance so parents can work, improving our public education so children have better opportunities in their futures, maintaining and increasing funding for family welfare programs and child protection agencies) in order to ensure the well-being of the future of our state.
Yet in the budget negotiations this summer, programs that support children and families were on the chopping block. We saw a $22 million cut to the Child and Community Services Act grants that provide child protective services in local communities, a $20 million cut to the Minnesota Family Investment Program Consolidated Fund (MN's family welfare-to-work program), and various cuts to child care assistance funding that will decrease the accessibility of child care for many families (click here for a more detailed list of the cuts that will impact children).
Which brings me back to the analogy of the family. If the government actually functioned like a family we would never ignore the needs of our children when times get tough. Instead we would somehow find a way to make more money and provide for their needs, whether it be taking a second job, or asking a wealthy aunt for some help. Ultimately we need to understand that, as cliche as it sounds, our children are our future and if we truly have hope for a better future, we must invest now to establish a foundation for our wellbeing!
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