Helping low-income children means helping their families

Helping low-income children means helping their families

- in Fitzsimon File

PV-TomV

A new report about child and family poverty from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ought to be required reading for new and returning state lawmakers and Governor Pat McCrory and his staff ought to take a long hard look at it too.

It reminds us that twenty-six percent of children in North Carolina live in poverty. For children of color, the poverty rate is 40 percent.  That’s shocking, but not news. Those shameful statistics were already out there, though somehow were not part of the debate in the recent election.

The new report, “Creating Opportunity for Family; A Two-Generation Approach,” powerfully makes the often forgotten point that to help low-income kids, you must help their families too.

There are 358,000 low-income families in North Carolina and in half of them no parent has a full-time, year-round job.  And many that do are paid by the hour with no sick leave, no family leave, no way to get their child to a doctor or an after-school counseling session without losing pay or even putting their job at risk. 

And it’s even tougher for poor families with young children. The report finds that there are more  than 400,000 children in North Carolina age 5 and under in low-income families and 18 percent of their parents report that issues with child care affected their employment.

State lawmakers made things worse in that regard last session, changing the eligibility guidelines to make 12,000 low-income children no longer eligible for a child care subsidy. The justification was to reduce the waiting list to serve the poorest children by ignoring thousands of other low-income kids.

The other choice was to increase funding for the program to help more children, not fewer, but tax cuts and other priorities were apparently more important.

Almost a third of young kids in low-income families are at risk for developmental delays, yet the General Assembly keeps slashing early childhood programs that can help and offering fewer at-risk kids the chance to enroll in NC PreK which increases their chances of succeeding in school.

In 79 percent of the poor families, no parent has at least an associate degree.  That means low-wage and unsteady work is all that is available if they are fortunate enough to find work at all.

Last year the General Assembly ended the state Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-wage workers and their families. It was part of “tax reform” that gave corporations a huge tax break and millionaires a $10,000 windfall, costing the state at least $704 million this year.

That’s a lot of day care subsidies and PreK slots and tax credits for hard-working low-income families.

Expanding Medicaid would help too and Governor McCrory and outgoing House Speaker Thom Tillis seem to finally be realizing that it makes sense, though Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger shows no sign of softening his rigid ideological opposition to expansion, no matter how many families and children it would help and how many jobs it would create.

And then there’s education, where to no one’s surprise, low income students often struggle because of hurdles their poverty creates. Yet cuts continue to teacher assistants and school counselors. Teachers have larger classes and fewer people to support their students.

It’s not only a scandal that 26 percent of our state’s children live in poverty–with thousands more in families with meager incomes just above the arbitrary line—it’s the defining issue of our time.

The most well-known publication of the Annie E. Casey Foundation is called Kids Count. This latest report makes it clear that families count too.

Now if we can only get our policymakers to understand that and start doing something about it instead of making things worse.