One-Third of US Children Live in Poverty

After a decade of decline, the rate of children living in low-income families is rising again, a trend that began in 2000.

Now there’s a surprise. The statistics are shameful. Iceland would be ashamed of them. But the richest country in the world has a government more concerned about the capital gains tax than about starving kids and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. According to The National Center for Children in Poverty:

# 16% of American children—more than 11 million—lived in poor families in 2002, meaning their parents’ income was at or below the federal poverty level. These parents are typically unable to provide their families with basic necessities like stable housing and reliable child care.# 37% of American children—more than 26 million—lived in low-income families in 2002. Their parents made less than 200% of the federal poverty line (FPL). These families often face material hardships and financial pressures similar to those families who are officially counted as poor.

Thirty-seven percent. More than a third. And most of them–more than half–are under grade-school age.

# 42% of infants/toddlers—4.8 million—live in low-income families (poor: 2.2 million).
# 40% of preschool children—3.2 million (poor: 1.4 million)
# 40% of kindergarteners—1.5 million (poor: 0.6 million)
# 38% of school-age children—10.5 million (poor: 4.6 million)
# 32% of adolescents—6.2 million (poor: 2.4 million)

Fifteen million kids under 18 live in poverty in the United States of America. 15 million. Say it with me one time: ‘Fifteen million.’ 12.5 million under 12 yrs old. 9 out of the 15 under 6 years old.

The richest country in the world, the 21st Century Empire, the No-Child-Left-Behind country, has 9 million little kids living in poverty, not sure where their next meal is coming from, and it’s paying Ahmad Chalabi $350,000/month to tell it lies that wouldn’t fool the rankest rube in the wilds of Wyoming, it’s paying $20,000/month to 11,000 mercenaries (‘contractors’) in Iraq, and over a $BILLION in hand-outs, tax breaks, and program support to some of the most profitable corporations in the land. Aren’t we proud now, ay?

It’s hard not to be bitterly sarcastic about the way American values have become hopelessly screwed up the last three years when you see numbers like these and read about the joy on Wall Street as they celebrate the latest uptick in the Dow. How did it happen? It happened because the radical conservatives who took control of the Republican Party used the Mighty Wurlitzer to convince the Larry Paquettes of this country that those kids really weren’t poor and if they were it was none of his business and anyway their parents were trying to rob him blind, the shiftless, lazy, good-for-nothing thieves.

Who’s Larry Paquette? Oh, that’s right–you’re not from around here. Well, in this neck of the woods, Larry Paquette’s kind of famous–infamous almost. More than a year ago, he wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Boston Globe in which he managed to smash together almost every far-right cliche on the books in the process of explaining why there was no reason for him to feel guilty about making his money, and about how it was his God-given right to keep that precious loot safe from the clutches of those lazy bums on Welfare who were out to steal it. You know–all those greedy, unprincipled 6-yr-olds. THEM.

#Larry Paquette is living proof of the success of the unholy alliance between an extremist conservative government, rapacious corporations, and the Mighty Wurlitzer Media Moguls in using relentless propaganda to turn otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people into raving, frothing-at-the-mouth lunatics.

#Larry Paquette is where all the strands we’ve talked about so far collide.

#Larry Paquette is a one-man 20-car pile-up at that corner on Storrow Drive where the hospital is.

#Larry Paquette is what happens to your brain when you watch FoxTV and listen to Rush every day. (That’s Rush ‘I Turn Brains To Mush’ Limbaugh, in case you didn’t know.)

Yes, that Larry Paquette.

Next Up: From the Hall of Shame–The Paquette Column and One Man’s Response To It

Low-income college students are increasingly left behind

College costs will take center stage this year as Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act. The law, first passed in 1965, was supposed to help make college affordable to students from all economic backgrounds. But a new book of essays, America’s Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education, argues that it hasn’t done enough. USA TODAY’s Greg Toppo talked with the editor, Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Q: How bad is the problem of college affordability for low-income students?

A: Nearly 40 years after Congress passed the Higher Education Act, low-income students are still much less likely to attend college than their wealthy or middle-class peers. Two-thirds of the nation’s wealthiest 25% of students enroll in a four-year college within two years of graduating from high school, but just one in five from the bottom 25% do so. And low-income students are virtually shut out of the nation’s most selective colleges: Among the top 146 colleges, 74% of students come from the richest economic quartile and just 3% from the poorest. In other words, you’re 25 times as likely to run into a rich kid as a poor kid on America’s elite campuses.

Q: What about graduation rates?

A: High-income students are more than six times as likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within five years than low-income students.

Q: Is this a problem of inadequate financial aid?

A: In large part. Financial aid funding hasn’t kept up with rising costs. In the mid-1970s, for example, the maximum Pell Grant for low-income and working-class families covered nearly 40% of the average cost of attending a four-year private college; now it covers about 15%.

Q: Where is federal help going?

A: Increasingly, the federal government has shifted resources away from grants for the poor to loans for the middle class. It has also shifted to higher education tax breaks, which mostly benefit the upper-middle class. In fact, federal education tax breaks now cost as much as the entire Pell Grant program. One result: Today, low-achieving rich kids are just as likely to attend college as high-achieving poor kids.

Q: If we solved the financial aid problem, would low-income students have equal access?

A: No. The other major barrier is academic preparation. Many low-income students get a lousy K-12 education.

Q: What is the federal government doing to help?

A: Historically, the federal government has sought to help low-income students through compensatory spending in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but the main responsibility for K-12 education remains with state and local governments. The newest version of ESEA, No Child Left Behind, which President Bush signed in 2002, seeks to improve the education of all students by raising standards and improving teacher quality, but we won’t know for some time how much difference it will make.

Q: What can be done to improve financial aid?

A: The education experts in our book make a number of recommendations. Funding for the Pell Grant should be restored to achieve the purchasing power it provided in the 1970s. The Gearup and Trio programs, which provide remedial academics for low-income students, should be doubled in size — currently they reach only 10% of eligible students. Elite colleges should provide affirmative action for poor and working-class students of all races. Research shows that we could move the representation of the bottom economic half from its current 10% to almost 40%.

Q: Won’t these programs cost a lot of money?

A: The increase in Pell Grant funding would cost about $12 billion; doubling Trio and Gearup would cost $1 billion. That’s far less than the cost of just the dividends and capital gains component of the recent tax cut. Smart, hardworking kids from low-income backgrounds deserve a chance to go as far as their talents will take them. These students represent a huge untapped resource for the country. We can’t afford not to give them genuine opportunity.

Freeloaders, that’s what they are. Oughta be ashamed of themselves… By the way, did you know the Higher Ed Act was up for renewal? Hear anything about it on tv? Think Tom DeLay’s gonna push it through, do yah?