The economy is on a record streak. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. If a rising tide was ever going to lift all boats, it would be doing so right now.

Yet millions of children in the richest country in the world remain in poverty, with millions more hovering just above the line, painting their early lives with stress and trauma — and setting them up for futures of disappointment and hardship.

Child poverty is America’s lasting shame, and we clearly cannot depend on economic growth to solve it.

According to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate overall fell below the 2007 level for the first time since the Great Recession.

Still, more than 16 percent of Americans under the age of 18 live in poverty, one of the worst rates among developed countries. In some states, the child poverty rate is as high as 28 percent.

Another 20 percent of American children live just above the poverty level, their families barely getting by, just one misstep or bit of bad luck away from catastrophe.


Though it’s hardly cause for celebration, Maine’s child poverty rate is slightly better than the national average, though in the rural 2nd Congressional District, it is higher.

As inexcusably high as it is now, the childhood poverty rate in the United States has been cut in half over the last 50 years, almost wholly because of tax credits and assistance programs aimed at helping low-income families.

But those programs aren’t helping poor families as much as they used to, largely because of opposition to such programs from Republicans.

Because of stringent, counterproductive work requirements and other imposed limits, only two-thirds of low-income Americans receive food assistance. Housing subsidies don’t come close to meeting the need, either. And just 23 percent of families in poverty Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, down from a high of 68 percent in 1996.

Even an attempt to expand the popular and effective Child Tax Credit was unsuccessful — the changes ultimately passed in President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill favored more wealthy families.

The country’s failure to adequately fund anti-poverty initiatives is — no surprise — pushing more children into poverty. A 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute finds a direct link between poverty rates and investment in such programs; the United States, which spends the third-lowest share of GDP on social programs, has the second-highest child poverty rate among developed countries.


No, the problem in the fight against child poverty is not a lack of ideas, it is a lack of will — and it is costing us dearly.

One in every five U.S. children is growing up in conditions that leave them wanting for food, health care and stable housing. Those children are experiencing stress and trauma that is changing their young brains, making it more difficult to build fruitful relationships and achieve at school and work.

Poverty is stifling — it cuts down a child’s opportunity for a bright future before they even have a chance.

And by some measures childhood poverty in the U.S. costs more than $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, higher health care costs, greater crime, among other costs.

For a fraction of that cost , the U.S. could lift millions of kids out of poverty. Fully funding programs that help poor families gain regular nutrition and health care, safe housing and something beyond an eked-out, day-to-day existence is not only the best way to help poor children — it may be the only way.

Comments are no longer available on this story