Child poverty and the Bush budget

Nowhere is the fakery of “compassionate conservatism” better exposed than in George W. Bush’s 2004 budget proposals affecting the children in low-income families.

In a blistering statement released shortly after release of the budget, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), slammed the White House for attempting to “dismantle” the Head Start program that provides developmental and educational services for almost 800,000 low-income, pre-school children ages three to five. She said the 2004 budget also “starves child care and after-school funding” and would drop 200,000 children from child care over the next five years and 570,000 children from after-school activities next year alone.

“Children are being forced to bear the burden of state budget shortfalls and the Bush administration’s budget proposals,” Edelman said, accusing the White House of waging a “budget war” against poor children. She added that Bush’s proposal to abolish taxes on dividends could provide every unserved child a slot in the Head Start program and health coverage under the children’s Health Insurance Program.

Edelman said the Bush administration believes children and the poor “should subsidize tax breaks for the rich” with the health care, education, jobs and income they need to survive today. She added, “[The administration] says our children and grandchildren should be saddled with a mountain of future debt as deficits escalate from profligate tax cuts for millionaires and huge indiscriminate military budget increases.”

The U.S. Census Bureau considered a three-person family poor in the year 2000 if its annual income was less than $13,738. For a family of four, the poverty threshold was $17,603. Using that standard, the Children’s Defense Fund says:

* 11.6 million American children younger than 18 lived below the poverty line in 2000. More children live in poverty today than were poor 20 or 30 years ago.

* One out of every six American children was poor in 2000. By race and ethnicity, 30.6 percent of Black children, 28.0 percent of Hispanic children, 14.4 percent of Asian and Pacific Island children, and 12.9 percent of white children were poor.

* Poor children defy the stereotypes. There are more poor white children (7.3 million) than poor Black children (3.5 million) or poor Hispanic children (3.3 million), even though the proportion of Black and Hispanic children who are poor is far higher. More poor children live in suburban and rural areas than in central cities. Poor families have only 2.3 children on average.

* Poverty matters. Poor children are at least twice as likely as non-poor children to suffer stunted growth or lead poisoning, or to be kept back in school. More than half of poor Americans experience serious deprivations during the year — lack of food, utility shutoffs, crowded or substandard housing, or lack of a stove or refrigerator. Poor households are more than 15 times as likely to experience hunger.

* Ranked against other social problems, the hazards of poverty are high. A baby born to a poor mother is more likely to die before its first birthday than a baby born to an unwed mother, a high school dropout, or a mother who smoked during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Other numbers are equally disturbing:

* More than three out of four poor children (77 percent) live with a family member who worked at least part of the year. More than one out of three poor children (4.1 million) lives in a family where someone is employed full-time year round. The proportion of poor families with children that were poor despite being headed by somebody who worked full time throughout 2000 is the highest in the 26 years for which data exist.

* Two out of five children in families headed by single women (39.8 percent) were poor in 2000. Only 8.2 percent of children in married families were poor.

* In fiscal year 1999, some 9.3 million people received food stamps. More than half of the people who get food stamps are children. In fiscal year 2000 15.4 million children were eligible for free or reduced-priced school lunches.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com