In a nation which has over 100 billionaires, and countless multi-millionaires, this statistic is not only alarming, it’s shameful. While politicians continue to play games in Washington, we now have more than half of our nation’s school children living at or below the poverty level.
There are an estimated 74.5 million children in the United States. In a recent study by the Southern Education Foundation, 51 percent of these children live in poverty. The numbers were accumulated by data revealing how many school age children qualified for reduced or free lunches at school.
Education officials said they have noticed the growing trend since 1989, when 32 percent of the nation’s school children were living in poverty. In 2000, the number had risen to 38 percent; in 2013 it reached 51 percent.
The formula used to determine if a child qualifies for reduced or free lunches is based on the family’s income level. For example, a family of four; two adults and two children, are considered impoverished if the household income is $23,550 or less.
Another 2013 statistic showed that one out of every 30 children in the United States in homeless; that adds up to 2.5 million. This is attributable to several causes, primarily poverty, and the lack of affordable housing.
These statistics signal a dire consequence for America. Underprivileged children tend to have more problems in school, and are more likely to drop out before completing high school. They have a rate seven times higher than children from middle class and wealthy families. The primary reason is simple; they needed to go to work.
Children living in the poverty level seldom have the opportunity to attend pre-school, and are therefore less prepared to enter the public school system. It is estimated that by fourth grade children in the poverty level and minorities are already two years behind more fortunate students; by twelfth grade they have become four years behind. Of those in the lowest income level, less than 30 percent have the opportunity to attend higher education. Of that 30 percent, less than 50 percent graduate.
The United States education system has failed its youth. Our nation ranks 31stin overall math testing; 24th in science; and 21st in reading worldwide. This means that the future of our work force in skilled areas will include individuals who are less well-educated than their grandparents.
Although our government is in denial about the importance of education, it will not simply disappear as a major problem in our nation. One statistic which makes me ask the question as to why we are not more serious about all of our children receiving the best education available, is reflected in national voting statistics. States with higher average education levels tend to vote Democratic; those with lower education levels are more likely to vote Republican.
When I was a freshman in high school, going to college was a dream. Today, for far too many of our children, especially those living in poverty, going to college is only a fantasy.
By James Turnage