The latest data from the US Census Bureau find that 1 in 4 of North Carolina’s children live in poverty. This is a five percentage point increase since the start of the Great Recession—a staggering one with important implications for the future of our state.
Children growing up in poverty face daily challenges that over a childhood accumulate into significant barriers to opportunity and mobility. Recent evidence finds that children in the bottom 20% of the income distribution, those living in poverty, have just a 50/50 chance of moving out of poverty as adults. The greater the number of children living in poverty, the greater economic hardship we can anticipate in the future unless something is done to address child poverty and its worst impacts on a child’s life.
Evidence suggests that the best approach to child poverty protects children at a young age from its most damaging effects. The latest data shows that nearly 1 in 3 children under the age of 5 are living in poverty, vulnerable to the long-term effects of toxic stress that affect brain development and long-term life chances. Quality early childhood development programs that provide a learning environment with caring, consistent relationships with adults are demonstrated not only to minimize the affects of toxic stress but to deliver long-term significant economic returns.
Continuing to invest in a quality educational experience throughout the childhood years is critical. But it is also important to build a quality community for children to grow up in. Such communities provide mentorship and safety, foster healthy activities and well-being, and ensure a stable and affordable home.
Finally, child poverty is in direct relationship with the struggles of working parents. It is therefore incumbent upon us to ensure that working parents are able to earn a living wage, balance their work-life responsibilities, and invest in their child’s future.
We must #talkpoverty and develop the will to solve these problems.