By Katie Wright and Bridget Kaminetsky
It’s time we give poverty, particularly child poverty, the attention it deserves. A good place to start would be the first presidential debate in Denver on October 3.
Were Jim Lehrer to ask the candidates how they would address child poverty as president, it would kick off a long-overdue dialogue on poverty in America. The candidates would have the opportunity to share their visions for helping poor families like Dawn’s.
Dawn is a working mom from Aurora who still struggles to make ends meet. “Last year,” she said, “I faced a situation where my gross monthly income was less than my monthly child care bill. This crisis altered our lives to the point of causing a meltdown of our family’s financial structure and even the possibility of homelessness.”
Dawn said she “tried for a long time to maintain the financial upkeep of the household by taking my kids to work with me, working in the evening to make up for missed hours, utilizing food banks and public assistance programs, but it still was not enough.”
Dealing with financial situations like this, she added, “can cause a rapid deterioration in one’s optimism, hope, and enthusiasm of finding a means to make it all work.”
Dawn’s story isn’t unique. Millions of Colorado families are fighting every day just to get by. Nearly one in seven Coloradans live in poverty and more than 1.5 million Coloradans struggle to care for their families and pay bills on low incomes.
And child poverty in Colorado is on the upswing: Nearly one in five children in the state now live in poverty.
Turning a blind eye to the struggles and obstacles facing more than 46 million Americans and 16 million children does not reflect the shared American values of compassion and community we all hold dear.
Moreover, allowing child poverty to persist costs our nation more than $500 billion each year, as it puts a drag on our productivity and causes us to spend more on health care and criminal justice. Children living in poverty are more likely to experience health or behavioral problems and have trouble finishing school.
If we want to create a nation in which every child can achieve his dreams and we can maintain our economic competitiveness for the long term, we can’t afford to squander our potential.
Between January and June of this year, less than 1 percent of presidential campaign coverage focused on poverty, according to a recent study by the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Instead, candidates have fielded vapid questions about their pizza crust, soda and reality TV show preferences.
We can’t go on like this. The Half in Ten campaign and Every Child Matters, in partnership with organizations like 9to5, National Association of Working Women, are spearheading a digital movement to push the debate moderators to ask the candidates what they would do in their first 100 days in office to address child poverty. Leveraging the power of Twitter and other social media outlets, advocates around the country will incorporate the hashtag #TalkPoverty and the Twitter handles of the debate moderators into their tweets leading up to the debate to begin a shared conversation and challenge the candidates on poverty.
Turning our back on families like Dawn’s is not an option. It’s high time we advance policies and invest in programs that support early education opportunities for at-risk children, provide the nutrition building blocks they need to develop, and create good quality jobs for parents so we can create the stability and security families with children need to thrive. But before we can get to those and other solutions, we need to start the conversation.
Join us to #TalkPoverty at the presidential debates so we can get started.