(NNPA)—Thirteen-year-old Brittanie Potter and her 12-year-old sister Sydney held a bake sale and garage sale at their Marion, Ohio home this summer with a simple goal in mind: raising money for their school clothes and supplies. Their father’s unemployment insurance ended earlier this year, their mother is still recovering from an accident last fall that broke her leg so badly she needed several surgeries and now gets around in a wheelchair, and their family has virtually no income. Brittanie worries: “I hear them talking about bills and it makes me upset. I just think we’re going to be okay…but sometimes, I don’t think we’re going to be okay.”
New data just released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals 46.2 million poor people in America, the largest number in the last 52 years. One in three of America’s poor were children—16.4 million, over 950,000 more than last year, and 7.4 million children were living in extreme poverty. Brittanie, Sydney, and their 15-year-old brother Tre are three of the children behind these grim statistics. Their father John’s most recent job was at the local ConAgra snack food plant, and their mother Brandy’s was at the nearby Marion Industrial Center, which made minor repairs to new Hyundai cars. “We were making it,” Brandy says. “John made $16 something an hour and I got $10.50. Between the two of us it was decent money. The kids had the things they needed. We were able to pay our bills and do things as a family. Then it all fell down.”
First, John lost his job at ConAgra. Then Hyundai ended its contract with her company and it went out of business. John’s unemployment insurance ended in June and they lost even that income. Brandy stopped getting unemployment insurance when she broke her leg; you have to be able to work to receive unemployment.
Brandy is thankful for the government safety net: “If we didn’t have food stamps, we would starve. Without Medicaid—oh my God! This morning I went to an appointment to apply for cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) because we have no income. That was hard. But what’s really hard is going from taking care of your family, and having not a lot of money but making it, to having to pretty much beg.”
The Potter family isn’t alone. The new poverty numbers are grim and shameful, and child and family suffering is widespread.
A country that does not stand for and protect its children—our seed corn for the future—does not stand for anything.
This is a national disgrace. Parents like John and Brandy have no control over the massive joblessness and foreclosures and misguided tax cuts for the wealthy that have ravished our economy. Congress needs to wake up and change course to protect children and their families. We must stop this devastation in our communities and protect children from all budget cuts. We need to invest in the health and education of our children and create jobs for their parents without a day’s delay. And every citizen and voter should demand that they do so in the richest nation on earth where there should be no poor children at all.
(Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.)