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America's Ongoing War
The Overall Picture
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared
war on American soil: the War on Domestic Poverty. Since then, hundreds of billions of
dollars have flowed from the U.S. government to large and small towns across America. Our
government has provided free food, repaired dilapidated homes and furnished jobs
agencies have indeed provided millions of Americans with much needed aid. Nevertheless, our country has not won the War on Poverty. In 1996, millions more Americans
lived in poverty than in 1964. A 1996 Fordham University report says that the country's social
well-being has reached its lowest point in a quarter century, with children and young
people suffering the most.
An Individual Example
When Fay Coffman hit rock bottom in 1995, she
relied on only $700 a month in government aid to support herself, her mother, and her
three children. Coffman said, "I was on welfare, food stamps, lived in the projects,
no car, no way to make ends meet. It was hard, and it was very, very depressing."
to her work at a self-help agency, Coffman and her family are doing well in their Missouri
hometown. Coffman has her own home, a car and no longer worries about having enough food
for her family.
Poverty's Effect on Children
Unfortunately, not all of America's poor have
been so fortunate. According to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September
1996, 13.8% of Americans live in poverty. Many more are on the borderline. Poverty
all ages, but an astonishing 48% percent of its victims are children:
About 15 million children -- one out of every four --
live below the official poverty line.
22% of Americans under the age of 18 -- and 25% under
age 12 -- are hungry or at the risk of being hungry.
Everyday 2,660 children are born into poverty; 27 die
because of it.
Children and families are the fastest growing group
in the homeless population, representing 40%.
Poverty in New York
poverty knows no geographical barriers, but it is especially widespread here in New York
City. The latest study, released in 1995 by the Citizens Committee for Children of New York,
reveals that New York children fare worse in virtually every category than their
counterparts at the state and national level. This includes low birth weight, infant
mortality, violence-related deaths, abuse and neglect, education, and job preparedness.
Life for New
York City children is getting worse:
25% of New Yorkers are children.
762,000 children live in poverty.
181 babies are born into poverty each day.
10,000 children are homeless. This number has doubled
to these sad statistics, many New York City children read and do math below grade level.
An estimated 38.9% of the city's school children will graduate high school, compared to
68.8% of all American students.
How the USA
Among the 21 most affluent nations,
the United States has the highest percentage of poor children. In fact, our rate is twice
that of the country next in line.
the September 1996 welfare reform bill cut $60 billion in aid to poor families within a
period of six years. It is estimated that this will throw one million more children into
poverty. Sadly, even though we are the richest industrialized nation, we are the stingiest
with aid to our own children.
Prospects for Their Future
Too many young Americans go to bed with
empty stomachs. They also wake up to seemingly hopeless futures: school problems, unemployment,
welfare, gangs, drugs and crime. Children of poverty are more likely to suffer young and
physically malnourished for the first five years of their lives, they are unable to keep
up in class. One national study projects that almost a million children who will have
started school in September 1996, will encounter serious problems. Many will drop out or
finish high school functionally illiterate.
Fortunately, some Americans care. Three out of every
four voters agree that our political leaders are not doing enough to help solve
the problems facing
our children. Despite strong concern over our national debt, two-thirds of the American
electorate believes that government programs for children should be the last to be cut.
This willingness to help children extends to voters of all ages, races, and political and
are other hopeful signs. Independent Sector, a national forum to encourage volunteerism,
reported in 1996 that giving and volunteering in America is slowly rising. In 1995, 49% of
American adults regularly did some form of volunteer work -- a total of 20.3 billion
hours. Financial contributions also increased more than 10% between 1993 and 1995.
Sector has uncovered key factors that motivate people to contribute and volunteer. Simply
being asked emerged as the number one incentive. The survey found that when asked to give,
85% of respondents oblige. Clearly, we Americans are willing to make a difference.
Taking a Stand
On June 1, 1996,
250,000 people from all 50 states participated in the Stand for Children. In this
non-partisan event, Americans of every race, age, and income group joined in songs,
prayers, and commitments to help America's troubled youth.
Even the youngest
participants understood the significance of the event. Seven-year-old Tracy said:
"Today was a good day
because we could eat and drink and have a lot of fun. All of this
happened so mommies and daddies will be able to take care of their
children, like my Mommy takes care of me."
At the Stand for Children,
people renewed their sense of responsibility for our nation's children. Rose Avello,
associate director of the Citizens Committee for Children of New York, sums up the view of
many child advocacy groups:
"The major success story is that more and more citizens care
about children, not just their own. People are realizing that children are our future and
that citizens have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive quality
As evidence, Avello cites
the recent growth of her organization's postcard campaign. Originally starting with only
100 volunteers, this annual drive for funds and awareness now includes some 10,000 New
Yorkers. Even young children send in their allowance to help.
a little help, every child can start to soar
Even a small amount of your time can make a
big difference for a child. And society benefits, too. Crime rates decline, youngsters
become better educated and then see their futures with more optimistic eyes. Says Eddie Ryeom, a
volunteer with Operation Exodus:
"One of the major benefits of working with
children is seeing tangible results, from their smiling faces to increased test scores.
However small your contribution, you're helping a community deeply in need."
testimonial and millions like it show that even one volunteer -- perhaps you -- can change
a child's life now and for the future. With up to 15 million kids in need, every volunteer
is an asset in our ongoing war on child poverty. From helping an individual child to
addressing the issue nationwide, there are many choices (some are below) on how to help --
and find greater fulfillment for yourself, too.
There are many ways you can get involved - from
national programs to one-on-one mentoring. See our
Children in Poverty Links.
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online 1997, latest changes March 31, 2007
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