Shared from the 1/1/2020 Albany Times Union eEdition


N.Y. leaders choose to allow children to suffer in poverty

New York children are more likely to live in poverty than in 31 other states. This is not a new trend. For more than a decade, the percentage of New York children living in poverty has lingered at 20 percent. And, due to structural inequities, child poverty among New York children of color has long exceeded 30 percent.

In some New York communities — including Rochester and the Bronx — more than half of the children live in poverty. When we also account for children living in near-poverty — that is, at up to 200 percent of poverty, or less than $51,500 for a family of four — 1.5 million of our children are living in families struggling to pay rent, heat their homes, access transportation, and make food last through the end of the month.

The uncomfortable truth is that New York has long had the means to tackle child poverty. New York boasts the 11th-biggest economy in the world (just after Canada), with an annual budget of $175 billion. The state has experienced steady economic growth since emerging from the great recession in 2011. Yet New York leaders make the choice, year after year, to allow hundreds of thousands of New York children to experience poverty.

The terrible impacts of poverty on our children cannot be overstated. The stress of poverty can actually alter the brain development of young children — causing permanent changes in the structure and functioning of the brain. As a result, many children who experience poverty face significant challenges — in the form of ill health, academic obstacles, lower earnings —for the rest of their lives. The World Health Organization describes poverty as the greatest cause of suffering on Earth, and the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that poverty and other adverse social determinants have a detrimental effect on child health and are root causes of child health inequities in the United States.

With the mid-year budget report showing New York facing a substantial budget shortfall, New York leaders will be under pressure again this year to delay meaningful investments in low-income children. At the same time, the federal government is advancing numerous policies, including sharp rollbacks to nutrition supports, which could dramatically reduce anti-poverty supports for children and families in New York and across the nation. Tellingly, the federal government’s recent investment in children — a significant expansion of the federal child tax credit — largely excluded low-income children.

We challenge New York leaders — the governor and Legislature — to make a public, binding commitment to cut child poverty in half in New York by 2030, and dedicate significant state dollars to set New York on a path to meeting that target. Growing evidence from peer nations and states shows that coordinated anti-poverty initiatives can drive a nation, state, or community to dramatically reduce child poverty. Setting a target and a coordinated plan will help ensure the state does not fall prey to pressure to balance the budget by diverting funds from one child poverty-reducing program to bolster another. If we don’t set a goal, we’ll never reach it.

Dede Hill is the policy director for the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy in Albany, a 148-year-old non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing policies that strengthen NY families and improve child well-being.

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