Hunger Jeopardizes Children’s Health and Ability to Learn

Child hunger jeopardizes children’s health and ability to learn. Poor children are more likely to experience hunger. In 2013, more than 45% of poor children lived in homes where not everyone had enough food. Food insecurity is associated with lower reading and math scores, greater physical and mental health problems, and higher incidence of emotional and behavioral problems. But by investing an additional 2% of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, the nation could reduce child poverty by 60% and lift 6.6 million children out of poverty.

In a report by the Children's Defense Fund, the United States has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized countries despite having the largest economy in the world. A child in the United States has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor and the younger she is the poorer she is likely to be. A child of color, who will be in the majority of U.S. children in 2020, is more than twice as likely to be poor as a White child.

Growing up poor has lifelong negative consequences, decreasing the likelihood of graduating from high school and increasing the likelihood of becoming a poor adult, suffering from poor health, and becoming involved in the criminal justice system. These impacts cost the nation at least half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity and increased health and crime costs. Letting a fifth of our children grow up poor prevents them from having equal opportunities to succeed in life and robs the nation of their future contributions.

According to the CDF, the U.S. can end child poverty by investing more in programs and policies that work. Substantial progress in reducing child poverty has been made over the past 50 years. Child poverty dropped over a third from 1967 to 2012 when income from in-kind benefits such as nutrition and housing assistance and tax credits are counted. Without these federal safety net programs child poverty would have been 68% higher in 2013, and 8.2 million additional children would have been poor. Despite this progress, 12.2 million children were poor in 2013 even after taking into account federal safety net programs because good jobs are still too scarce and safety net programs are stretched far too thin.

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