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With more kids in poverty, it’s time for action

Holy smokes.

Remember last week when we promised a more in-depth look at poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau? Well, today, those data were released, and the look we promised isn’t going to be a very happy one. While the Omaha World-Herald led with a story touting Nebraska’s income growth, the takeaway here at Voices for Children has been that our state’s kids aren’t seeing the benefits of this growth.

Don’t believe me? Need some numbers? Here we go.

In our state, about 82,000 kids were living in poverty in 2010. That’s 18% of Nebraska children – nearly one out of five kids. Compare that figure with child poverty in 2000. Back then, our child poverty rate was 10%. Somehow, in a decade, our economy has managed to do almost twice as much damage to the youngest among us.

The story gets worse for children of color.

Among African American kids, the poverty rate is a startling 52%. Native American children experience poverty rates nearly as high at 50%. Hispanic children fare slightly better – but it’s still nothing to celebrate – with a poverty rate of 34%. For comparison, 15% of children who are White are poor. Disparities, indeed.

So what do we mean when we say poor? We’re not just talking low-income here. We are talking capital-P Poor. To be officially “poor,” a family of three would make less than $18,530 a year, or $1,544 a month. Pretty tough to make ends meet with that kind of an income.

We worry about what this means for our kids as they grow up and try to carve out their places in the world. Next time you drive by a school, count out five kids. One of them is likely poor. That child is more likely than her peers to grow up struggling academically, to wonder where her next meal is coming from, to lack access to health care or safe, affordable housing. That child will take all of that with her into adulthood, when she will struggle to break the cycle of poverty.

One out of five. Worse if you’re a kid of color.

It’s time to make children a political priority and invest in programs that help families move out of poverty.


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