Take a good look at the title for this post. What if we, the American people, our Congress, and our federal and state agencies agreed that reducing the number of children in poverty was a priority for our country? After two years, the committee challenged to tackle that question published a report through the National Academies Press (NAP)1. The report can be downloaded free or pre-ordered once the 599-page report is available. Here’s the link: NAP.
The 17-page summary provides some provocative thoughts that I hope will get our attention. In the first paragraph of that section, the quote that gets my attention is this:
…millions of American children live in families with incomes below the poverty line.
Millions. I wonder what historians will say about this present generation and its apathy toward poverty in the world’s most affluent nation. We must not turn aside when human beings are marginalized and categorized as worthless. There is no such thing as a worthless human. We have all made mistakes, some far worse than others. Instead of labeling people, we need to consider the incredible benefit to our country, to the world, if we worked together to lend a hand to our fellow man.
The report provides a comprehensive and objective view of the problem of poverty for children–the next generation that will run this country and in large part take care of us as we live longer. Let that thought sink in for a minute.
We should not be surprised that there is a direct connection between child poverty and child well-being. The report dives into this issue objectively. You’re reading this post from myresourceguide.org because we care about our community, we want our community to thrive, to be a positive example.
The government, our system of elected overseers, is not going to solve this problem alone. The report provides a detailed analysis and roadmap to address the challenges, but we know the “what if” challenge at the top of this post is probably a stretch. I’m sure that’s why they include that as a critical point in their summary.
Six Major Contextual Factors
Let me draw your attention to page S-13 of the report. Here the authors present six factors that will influence the success or failure of any number of public policy decisions. When you read each element ask yourself what we can do to support the positive outcome.
Stability and predictability of income: Because unstable and unpredictable income makes it difficult for families to juggle their everyday challenges, programs that provide regular income support—whether through tax credits, cash, or vouchers—may be more helpful to families if they provide adequate benefits at well-timed intervals.2
Changing the system that provides benefits is a great challenge for government bureaucracies to accept. Perhaps we can look at the everyday challenges presumption as a means to help. Think about ways we might step in to help those juggling getting children to activities or working an extra shift. Employers might have to wade into that uncomfortable space of getting to know employees, making exceptions to policy, or even covering for a frontline worker who is underperforming because they aren’t sleeping or eating well as they make a choice for their children.
Equitable and ready access to programs: Unnecessarily burdensome administrative procedures can discourage families—especially the most needy families—from applying for the income assistance benefits they are eligible to receive, and thus prevent them from receiving them at all.2
My wife and I are both retired military officers. We have seen enough forms, policies, and procedures to stop a moving freight train! We’re not the only ones who have waded into the deep waters of government paperwork. It’s difficult to imagine someone who has a legitimate need successfully navigating the forms, phone calls, waiting in lines, etc. You know the drill. Churches don’t have the staff to learn all of these things, but they do have people who are concerned, who have the discretionary time, and the skills to cope with long, drawn-out processes. I would love to see more churches adopt some of the South Main Chapel and Mercy Center methods of helping people in need.
Equitable treatment across racial and ethnic groups: Discrimination in hiring and employment may undermine policies that aim to increase or subsidize wages as well as policies that require beneficiaries to work. Similarly, housing discrimination reduces racial and ethnic minority families’ access to and benefits from housing programs.2
This is so simple. We don’t need our elected officials telling us to be kind to one another. We need to recognize our biases and move forward. Perhaps this involves openly talking and discussing prejudices or admitting we always discriminate to one degree or another.
Equitable treatment by the criminal justice system: Involvement of a parent or other relative in the criminal justice system harms significant numbers of low-income children, particularly minority children, both economically and in other ways.2
Anderson County created a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to help address issues imposed by the system. While it’s a tough nut to crack, the incremental positive motion has significant implications for the future administration of our judicial processes. The Council will do its best to address systemic issues; we have to do our part to lend a hand to the parents and relatives of those incarcerated–those who are left behind. This isn’t an easy concept to consider, but it is possible if we know our neighbor and care about our community, which leads to the next point.
Positive neighborhood conditions: Living in areas of concentrated poverty makes it difficult for parents to lift themselves and their children out of poverty. Supportive, thriving social networks and neighborhood conditions enrich family life, personal connections, and access to opportunities, yet too frequently the poor live in urban areas of concentrated poverty or are widely dispersed in rural areas with limited transportation and little access to employment, poverty reduction programs, or community resources.2
The heart of the Community Resource Guide may look like a folded piece of paper, but it is more about uniting our community than disbursing information. We want to be part of the positive change by getting to know those who are living in poverty, building relationships organically, and finding solutions with others, not for others, as if they are a project. This is something we should want to do because as we lift each other up, we all benefit. Crime is reduced when hope is kindled. Every book we’ve read on poverty includes something along these lines. The only way to break the cycle of poverty is to reinvigorate hope.
Health and well-being: Because physical and mental ailments, substance abuse, and domestic violence can undermine parents’ ability to make sound decisions, care for their children, gain education, obtain and keep work, and support their households, anti-poverty programs that require participants to be employed in order to maintain eligibility or that have cumbersome eligibility requirements may be less effective for families with these issues.2
I’m thankful for the professionals that volunteer their time at the Anderson Free Clinic and many organizations across our county to provide direct services to these issues and raise awareness of the need. The United Way of Anderson County is offering an all-day training class for Mental Health First Aid. The more we understand the signs, the better we can be at helping those in need. There are a number of substance abuse programs in our area list on the Community Resource Guide that all need volunteers to support their difficult tasks. We don’t have to create a new program, just reach out to one of the agencies already in the fray. Find one that matches your personality, your doctrine, your approach to mentoring or discipleship. They need your help.
We Can Make a Difference
I added some of my ideas above to help you get started, but my main point is this:
with or without changes to governmental policies, programs, and the influx of money to charities, we can begin to affect change today.
Our Community Resource Guide proves that there are hundreds of people in our somewhat small community that are focused on providing support. The “what if” I propose is this:
- What if we decided to be part of a thriving community by working together?
- What if we didn’t wait for Congress to pass a bill and just got to work with service providers already focused on solving their niche issue?
- What if we love our neighbor without judgment?
- What if we became the change agent instead of waiting for change?
I hope you will download the report summary and imagine a better tomorrow by getting involved. Please add your voice to the discussion.
1The National Academies Press (NAP) publishes the reports of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative, independently-researched information on important matters in science and health policy.
2ibid, p. S-13