The president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation discusses the organization’s new report, which reveals the shocking number of children living in poverty in the U.S.
Foundation exec Patrick McCarthy
Tavis: Just last week we got another sobering reminder about poverty when the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their findings about the shocking number of children living in poverty in the United States. Mr. Stearns is the CEO of the Casey Foundation who joins us tonight from Atlanta. Patrick, good to have you on the program. Thanks for your time, sir.
Patrick McCarthy: Thank you, Tavis, happy to be here.
Tavis: Let me start with a very simple question – why? Why so many children – an increasing number of children, in fact – living in poverty in the richest nation in the world?
McCarthy: Well, I think we start with the incredible impact of the recession since 2007. We’ve seen 18 percent more children in poverty since the year 2000 to the year 2009 because of the recession. That means we’ve got almost 15 million children living below the poverty line in this country as of 2009.
On top of that we’ve got a total of 31 million children who actually live in families that make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, they’re very close to economic danger – one or two paychecks away from economic catastrophe.
Tavis: I’m not naive in asking this, but why is this allowed to happen to children? Put another way, who’s defending them, who’s fighting for them, are they disposable, are they throwaway because they cannot vote? Why are these numbers racking up so high where children are concerned?
McCarthy: Well, I think there’s lots of different kinds of reasons. As you said, children don’t vote, so that, of course, is an important factor. But I think the more important factor is that you’ve got a recession here that has really taken the guts out of the employment for especially the young families who have children.
So we’re struggling with the question of how do you jumpstart the economy to create some jobs and at the same time protect children during this recession? From our vantage point, that means investing in the kinds of things that both protect families from economic problems and at the same time invest in children so they themselves will have a better chance of opportunity.
Tavis: If you judge a nation by how it treats its babies, if you judge a nation by how it treats its children – and that’s one of the things that I judge a nation by, any nation, how are you treating your babies, how are you treating your children – if I’m right about that, then what does it say about our country, that we’ve allowed so many children to fall into poverty? What’s it say about us as a nation?
McCarthy: Well, I think one of the things we have to remember is that one of the things that helped make this country great was the sense that if you worked hard and you used your talents well that you’d be on a path towards opportunity.
Every single parent wants to tell their child that if they work hard they’re going to be successful. What we’re struggling with right now is the sense that that opportunity is slipping away from us. We’re seeing more and more children end up where they started – in other words, if they started low on the economic ladder they end up low on the economic ladder.
That’s something we have absolutely have to do something about to give that sense that in this country if you work hard you can, in fact, be successful.
Tavis: If we couldn’t get an agreement for a long time on raising the debt ceiling, tell me why I should believe that when Congress comes back into session in September they’re going to take these Annie E. Casey findings seriously and start to talk about investing in and protecting programs that protect children.
McCarthy: Well, what we would hope is that congressmen as well as folks across the country, legislators who have to deal with state-level deficits as well as the national debt, that as they take on these challenges they will keep in mind that they both have to deal with today’s problems, but they very much have to deal with the future.
They have to deal with charting a path towards opportunity for children so that we won’t be in the same situation when we’re in 2021, 2031, 2041. James Heckman, who is a Nobel laureate in economics, says one of the best things we can do to deal with the long-term debt situation of the country is to invest in young children.
Why? Because they’re the future not only in terms of their own particular lives, but they’re the folks who are going to be working and earning and contributing to this society as we move forward.
Tavis: I know the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a nonpartisan organization, but let me ask you, because these things seem to be linked, to me. I raised a moment ago this notion of this debt ceiling legislation passed before Congress took its recess. You and I both know that for the next 10 years now there are going to be some massive cuts, and some of those cuts are going to be to programs that benefit children.
So where these austerity measures are concerned, in the coming weeks and months and years how are children going to be impacted by this legislation?
McCarthy: Well, we think the most important thing is that as the Congress struggles with where to make cuts and how to bring the country’s revenues in line with its expenses that we’ve got to make some smart choices. They’re certainly tough choices, but we’ve got to make them smart choices, and we think the way to do that is to keep in mind what’s most important, and we think investing in children is one of the most important things that the country can do.
Second, what’s most cost-effective, and third, what’s likely to contribute to the future and to the legacy for today’s policymakers. So that means that as we look at each individual program, each dollar that we spend, each dollar that we try to raise, are we, in fact, investing as wisely as we can into the future?
For us, that means investing in the economic success of families today, because we know growing up in poverty reduces the chances for kids in the future, and secondly, investing early in children, investing in prenatal care and early childhood programs and quality pre-kindergarten and the early elementary school as well.
Tavis: What’s the Casey Foundation know about the impact that poverty has on children long-term? Put another way, how does poverty impact their social, their cultural, their physical, their psychological, their spiritual development when they live in poverty for year after year after year?
McCarthy: Well, there’s a great deal of research on the impact of poverty on children. We know that the younger the child and the longer the child spends in poverty, then the higher the odds are that they’ll be successful.
We know that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor themselves, less likely to have good attachments to the labor force, less likely to graduate from high school and then go on to college, more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system, more likely to suffer from substance abuse and mental health problems.
So poverty is one of the biggest predictors of rotten outcomes for children that we have. However, there’s some recent research that looked at the last four recessions that shows that even children who started out above the poverty line and then slipped into poverty for a period of time as a result of recession, when compared to other children who didn’t slip into poverty, those children in fact end up doing less well in school, being more likely to be held back, less likely to graduate, and even having serious health problems.
Tavis: I’ve said consistently over the last few weeks on this poverty tour that the new poor in this country, the new poor are the former middle class. So I take the point you’ve just made now to heat, as I hope our listeners do, for those who are in the middle class and are just a paycheck or two away, the data’s very clear.
Even when middle class children fall into poverty years down the road, they end up paying for that – never mind the middle class values that they’re raised with.
Let me ask you what your hope is, Patrick, for policymakers when they come back to Washington in terms of takeaway from this data that everybody seems to be talking about since you guys released this days ago.
McCarthy: Well, I think that people have begun to realize that you’ve got to invest today in families’ economic success in order for their children to be successful tomorrow, and we’ve got lots and lots of research that says you’ve got to invest early in children in order for them to be successful.
I think we’re starting to recognize that we have to figure out a way to start creating jobs. Unemployment has now affected eight million children, twice the number since the beginning of the recession. You’ve got 11 percent of children living in families with at least one unemployment parent, and you’ve got many other children living in families where the parent has been out of work so long they’ve actually dropped out of the labor force.
You’ve got almost half of the unemployed have now been unemployed for more than six months, and they have children. That’s a devastating effect on children. We’re also seeing a huge impact of foreclosure on children. We’re seeing 5.3 million children impacted by foreclosure between 2007 and 2009 alone. That’s not counting 2010 and 2011, and that’s also not counting those children who are impacted because the place where they live, their landlord was foreclosed upon and as renters they were forced to move out. So this is really for children in this country a huge, huge crisis.
Tavis: I’ve got just 30 seconds to go, Patrick, but I don’t want to close by asking who these children really are. I could have begun by asking that question, but let me close by asking you, because I hate it when we color-code the conversation about poverty.
Put another way, when we say “poverty” we think we’re only talking about Black kids or only talking about brown kids. Who are these children in America that we’re talking about who are now more impoverished than ever? Who are these kids?
McCarthy: Well, I think you can start with the fact that 42 percent of America’s children are living in families that make less than 200 percent of the poverty level – that’s about $44,000, $45,000 for a family of four. That’s 42 percent of America’s children, so it goes well beyond children of color.
Now it’s also important to say, however, that children of color are disproportionately impacted by this economic crisis, both from the standpoint of employment and the loss of assets that comes from foreclosure.
Tavis: Patrick McCarthy is the CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. No entity in the country doing better work in terms of research and data than Casey about the plight of poor children in this country. Patrick, thanks for your work and good to have you on the program, sir.
McCarthy: Thank you very much.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
“Announcer:” Nationwide Insurance supports Tavis Smiley. With every question and every answer, Nationwide Insurance is proud to join Tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. Nationwide is on your side.
At Toyota, we celebrate differences and the people who make them. Toyota – proud supporter of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.