iStock_000004268601LargeOne in five children in our nation live in poverty, and children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than any other age group in the United States. Of all Americans living in poverty in 2013, 32 percent were children, yet children only comprise 23 percent of the total population. Black and Hispanic children experience higher rates of poverty than white children, with rates of 38 percent and 30 percent respectively, compared to 11 percent for white children.

Poverty is a particularly serious problem for children, who can be exposed to toxic stress and suffer negative effects for the rest of their lives after living in poverty for even a short time. Children in poverty experience increased rates of infant mortality, higher rates of low birth weight, and subsequent health and developmental problems such as chronic disease. They also have worse education outcomes with poor academic achievement and lower rates of high school graduation.

Recent events in Baltimore are just the latest reminder of the barriers facing our children. As the president said during a panel discussion at Georgetown University last week, we are at a moment of a growing awareness of inequality in our society, and there is the opportunity for the nation to refocus on the issue of poverty and bridge some of the ideological divides that have stopped progress.

Building on this opportunity, we need to establish a national child poverty target in the United States, which would set the goal of cutting child poverty in half in ten years and eliminating it within 20 years. It would not only refocus the United States on the issue of child poverty, but hold the government accountable to bridging these divides.

Establishing a national child poverty target is not unprecedented. In 1999, the United Kingdom established a national child poverty target, which united the Conservative and Labour parties. Measured in U.S. terms, the UK’s Child Poverty Target and resulting policy changes cut Britain’s child poverty rate by 50 percent during the effort’s first decade (1999-2009). By contrast, the U.S. child poverty rate increased by 23 percent, from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 19.9 percent in 2014.

The adoption of a Child Poverty Target would go a long way in reducing child poverty in the United States. In the example of the UK, once the target was established, both parties were forced to put forth proposals to address the issue and the target holds both parties accountable for meeting or failing to make progress on the issue. Although the UK is no longer making progress on reducing child poverty, the existence of the target provides a tool for the opposing political party, the media, advocates, and other stakeholders to hold the government’s feet to the fire on the issue. This has been portrayed most recently in the news following the UK’s recent national election.

Recognizing the need to establish a national child poverty target, Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced today the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2015 (HR 2408).

In addition to establishing a national target that would set the goal of cutting child poverty in half in ten years and eliminating it in 20 years, this bill would also:

  • Charge a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Child Poverty with developing a plan, including recommendations to improve the coordination and efficiency of existing initiatives as well as recommendations for new legislation required to reach the target;
  • Request the National Academy of Sciences to assist in the development of a plan by researching the societal costs of child poverty, the role of metrics in assessing the effects of child poverty and the performance of anti-poverty programs, as well as make non-partisan recommendations on how to reduce child poverty;
  • Task the working group with monitoring progress toward the target at the federal and state levels.

Reducing child poverty is not only the right thing to do, but it makes smart economic sense. Child poverty costs America’s economy nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. To put this in perspective, the Great Recession cost the economy 4.7 percent of GDP over two years.

Lets do the right thing for our children, our economy and our nation’s future and work together to pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2015 so we can take concrete steps to reduce child poverty in the US.

Click here for additional materials about this legislation and the UK’s efforts.

How the Child Poverty Reduction Act can cut U.S. child poverty in 1/2 >> v/ @Campaign4Kids #InvestInKids #TalkPoverty
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization advocating to make children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about the child poverty target.

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