By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
One out of every six children in Alabama lives in poverty, a startling number for a State whose elected officials constantly proclaim the sanctity of life. Few in Alabama would disagree with the belief that every child has a right to be born, but doesn’t that same child deserve to live a healthy life? At what point does a child transition from being a precious gift from God, to a burden on the State?
Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican supermajority have shown a fondness for commissions, and white papers. Prison reform, ethics reform, Medicaid, and the like, have all received attention. However, addressing poverty has not proven to be a priority for the Governor or the supermajority.
Statistics show the State’s childhood poverty rate remains basically unchanged over the last 25 years.
So, it would appear their Democrat predecessors were not that serious about addressing poverty either.
The State’s overall poverty rate (pre-recession) was 14.5. It has now grown to 16.7 percent.
According to the KIDS COUNT Data Book, “The recession dealt a heavy blow to family economic security, creating risks for children. The job market has been slow to recover, particularly for the least-educated workers, and new employment opportunities have been disproportionately focused on low-wage and insecure jobs.
A recent report by the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress found, that over the last five years, the greatest private employment gains in Alabama have been made in leisure and hospitality, traditionally the lowest rung of the job market with a 13.4 percent gain or new 22,300 new jobs.
In Poverty in Alabama, Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus of the Department of History at Auburn University wrote, “The origins of this [Alabama’s] poverty are complex. Some states are poor because they lack natural resources. That is not the case in Alabama, which contains abundant water and mineral wealth. So the roots of poverty must be found in its social, political, and economic policies.
Flynt cites a history of slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination as the reason for part of the vast poverty among the State’s African American population.
He further blames the State’s economic development strategy throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century as another source of the problem. “It was rooted in desperate attempts to attract low-skill, low-wage industries, such as textiles, with tax exemptions coupled with government repression of unions that could have pushed for higher wages,” Flynt wrote.
Some could easily argue the same economic development strategy remains today, as the State relies on massive incentives to lure prospective employers.
To combat childhood poverty, the Children’s Defense Fund says, “The first is that the best anti-poverty strategy is to ensure parents and caregivers who are able to work can find jobs that pay enough to support a family.”
Their second premise is that all of society benefits if children’s basic needs are met.
KIDS COUNT Data Book ranked states according to trends in child well-being, and found that Alabama is near the bottom at number 45. The State ranked 41 in Economic Well-Being, 45 in Education, 40 in Health, and 44 in Family and Community.
These statistics paint a bleak picture for the future, because childhood poverty is a leading indicator of success.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, In a 1998 letter, Creating a Culture of Life wrote, “”Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members —the last, the least, the littlest.”
With childhood poverty at 27 percent, it begs we answer the question, “when do children go from being precious to being a burden?”