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CDF report: Child hunger and homelessness rampant in the US

Lady Bird Johnson reading to children enrolled in Project Head Start at Kemper School in Washington, DC, March 19, 1966. Head Start provides pre-school education to children during their critical development years.
Lady Bird Johnson reading to children enrolled in Project Head Start at Kemper School in Washington, DC, March 19, 1966. Head Start provides pre-school education to children during their critical development years.
White House Photograph / Robert L. Knudsen

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) released its annual The State of America’s Children report today, Jan. 23, and the data shows childhood poverty has reached record levels in America. One in five children in the country is poor, living in a household at, or below, the Federal Poverty Level.

The report notes that globally, while the United States ranks first in Gross Domestic Product and leads the world in its number of billionaires, it is the second worst country when it comes to child poverty rates, just ahead of Romania.

“The greatest threat to America’s economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young.” — Marian Wright Edelman, President and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund

More than 50 percent of the poor children in the U.S. live in eight states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. The number of homeless children has increased 73 percent since 2007 with the Great Recession; one in nine children lacked access to adequate food in 2012.

The report finds large income and wealth gaps among race and ethnic groups, with white household average wealth at $110,500, Hispanic household average wealth at $7,683 and black household average wealth at $6,314. In Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin half or more black children are poor and nearly half the states have black child poverty rates of 40 percent or more.

The CDF calls on President Obama and political leaders at all levels of government to continue fighting the war on poverty declared by President Johnson 50 years ago in his State of the Union address. Federal spending cuts designed to reduce the budget deficit have affected anti-poverty programs such as SNAP and Head Start. The CDF claims, “We can afford to do better.”

Childhood poverty costs the nation $500 billion in extra education, health care, criminal justice and lost productivity costs, according to the CDF. The report notes that, on average, states spend 2.5 times as much per prisoner than per student in public schools. The amount spent per minute on corporate tax breaks would fund the salaries of 16 childcare workers. The cost of one F-35 fighter jet would pay for one year of Head Start for more than 17,500 low-income children.