Editorial: Ignoring Childhood Poverty

If you are reading this in Pueblo, take a look around and find five people. One of these five Puebloans could be receiving some sort of federal food assistance.

Appalling, but it gets worse.

A third of the people in Pueblo County use the Department of Social Services, according to the department’s director, Tim Hart.

A third? That’s the type of stat where you put your hands up to your head and just think, “Are you kidding me?”

These two statistics by themselves are telling but not really a shock. We’ve accepted Pueblo’s perpetual poverty. Somehow it becomes enduring, like lovable losers who do no harm.  We struggle, can’t bring jobs here and generally just blame corruption for Pueblo’s woes.

When we talk about it it’s usually the faceless, nameless economic statistic where “those” people live in poverty. Not “our” people, except for those of you reading this who are living in poverty.

What happens when you add kids to the mix? Pueblo is in the bottom three counties in Colorado for a child’s well-being.

In a recent report by Kids Count, Pueblo is at another wrong end of another list. This report says children whose family’s well-being hovers near the federal poverty level have a higher percentage of lower test scores, more health risks, obesity, living in a single-parent home, qualify for free and reduced lunch and do not graduate from high school.

The report was an actual scathing indictment on the desperate situation for Pueblo’s youth citing statistics such as 21 percent of women without 12 years of education have a child, 44.3 percent of moms are single parents and 57 percent of children are on Medicaid. Additionally, 100 percent of children are attending full-day kindergarten but only 76 percent of children graduate from high school in Pueblo county.

But the number that hurts the most? 1 in 4 children lives in a family that earns less than the federal poverty level; that’s 10,407 children in 2013 living in poverty. For a family of four that’s around $24,000 per year or $60 a day to live on.

We’ve accepted Pueblo’s perpetual poverty. Somehow it becomes enduring, like lovable losers who do no harm.  We struggle, can’t bring jobs here and generally just blame corruption for Pueblo’s woes.

With adults we may think it’s a matter of choice that they live in poverty, but name one child who deserves to live in poverty.

You can’t name one because with kids, they don’t have a choice. Only the most cynical critic would ever read these numbers and think, these children deserve this because of their parents.

Here’s the stage of the editorial where someone is thinking we all know these statistics but so what. Pueblo has always had poverty, and we always will.

Critics can argue that the economy has turned around. You only have to look at the unemployment rate and see how it fell to 6 percent in January. Yes, a rising economy is like a rising tide and these numbers will improve.

That is partially true and certainly 2015 should show that the childhood poverty percentage has decreased since 2013.

But how can we look past the fact that, right now, our county has been listed as the one of the worst in Colorado for children’s well being.

Hearing that living in Pueblo County impacts the well-being of 1 out of 4 children is painful to listen to because these Puebloans are still Puebloans.

The solution, and there is one–one which we control–and it’s known by PEDCO, City Council, other elected officials, non-profits and even the school districts.

Pueblo’s entire economic well-being and the well-being of these children rests in the hands of Districts 60 and 70. Attack poverty through education and you begin to help these kids. You also begin making Pueblo attractive to capital and companies.

This isn’t a secret. It’s not uncommon for leaders to mention these exact sentiments to me. No one is rooting against education or wanting teachers to fail, but they are concerned about systematic failure impacting children whereby their education doesn’t help them exit out of poverty. And that hurts the county as a whole.

Why education? There is a direct correlation between the economic status of a child and educational performance. Impoverished students have lower test scores which then lowers the attractiveness of an entire county. The TCAP scores, for instance, show performance is tied to whether or not a student is on free or reduced lunch.

Yes, there are students and families who work hard, value education and do better. But that may be a policy of luck, not of help.

Even if you buy into the belief that adult poverty is a choice, do we expect magically at age 18, a child who has struggled in school becomes suddenly proficient and makes the choice to continue living in poverty?

The choice we have to make now is that the abatement of perpetual, chronic poverty become a county priority. And what do we do with those who accept that change isn’t needed?

Who is the first leader to tell these kids living in poverty, they deserve to live this way? Inaction and silence seem no different than acceptance.

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