For three weeks now, the news has been focused on the government shutdown/showdown. It has been all-consuming. There have been debates, accusations, finger-pointing, blaming, and from many Americans, disgust. Now that the shutdown is over with a budget in place (at least for the next few months), the news outlets are delving into the damage done by recent political events. Polls have been conducted, results reported, and more disgust.
While we were all distracted by the shutdown, something else hit the news with much less fanfare. Sadly this news should have been the focus of news reports, but took a backseat to political antics. The Southern Education Foundation released a report, A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and Nation. This report details sobering statistics about our Nation’s children. “A majority of public school children in 17 states, one-third of the 50 states across the nation, were low income students – eligible for free or reduced lunches – in the school year that ended in 2011. Thirteen of the 17 states were in the South, and the remaining four were in the West. Since 2005, half or more of the South’s children in public schools have been from low income households. During the last two school years, 2010 and 2011, for the first time in modern history, the West has had a majority of low income students attending P-12 public schools.” (Emphasis added) A staggering 48% of children attending public schools in the U.S. were eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2011. The highest percentage of eligible children live in Mississippi, where 71% of students qualified due to their families’ poverty level incomes.
Many people probably missed this report. After all, like a group of teenagers texting on their phones, most of the nation was distracted. When we all should have been alarmed by these numbers, we were listening to the latest saga in Washington D.C. Instead of keeping our eyes on the children, the single most valuable resource in the country, many people have been engaged in the latest political drama. And it’s not just the last few weeks. For several years we have been engulfed in a political free-for-all that seems never-ending.
So what comes next? What can the average person do about this? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Call your local news outlets and ask them to report on the child poverty rates, if they have not already done so. If they have, ask them to keep it in the forefront of future news reports. We need to spread the word and get more people engaged in solving this problem.
2) Call your elected officials and tell them that poverty among children needs to be at the TOP of their list of issues to address. I have yet to hear one politician mention this report, and I’m a bit of a political junky. We MUST get their attention.
3) Find out what your local and state poverty rates are and what is being done to address the problem. Until people start asking the questions and expressing concern, poverty among children will remain a low priority.
4) Hold politicians accountable for responding to this issue. Ask them what they are doing at state and national levels to address poverty. Ask them to be mindful of this issue each and every time they debate and vote on legislation. This issue is important enough that every piece of legislation is evaluated for its impact on poverty rates.
5) Get involved in addressing poverty in your community. Talk to politicians, organizations working on this issue, local business leaders, and friends and neighbors. Find out what YOU can do locally to lower poverty rates in your community. You would likely be surprised at the impact one person can have when they set their mind to fixing something.
6) Do not allow yourself to become distracted by all the ‘noise’ that filters through the media. Remain focused and committed to keeping attention on the issue of poverty rates among children. Their future; OUR future depends on it.