Did you know…Childhood Poverty?

childpoverty-01Last week I spent some time at a conference featuring the Executive Director of the National Diaper Bank Network. Joanne Samuel Goldblum was one of three speakers discussing “Childhood Poverty and Diaper Need.” I was very impressed with the information shared and wanted to take some time to bring the information to you and how this impacts our own community of Dallas County.

Dana Carroll, from the Every Child Promise initiative, was another of the speakers and she shared current information about Greene County poverty. This is close to home and I have to admit some of the information hit too close to home. Some of it I can attest to being true in my own family. I want to share this with you and ask you to consider our community when you read these words.

In Greene county children under the age of 6 make up 7% of the population. The number of children in this group who live in poverty is 32.5% for 2014. This has grown every year since 2010. While I realize this is information on Greene County instead of Dallas County, it is not going to be much different. I’m starting to do some research for Dallas County numbers and hopefully in a future blog I will be able to share our specific numbers.

Understanding how many children are in poverty is the start of understanding the impact of this poverty. Families in poverty are denied some of the things we take for granted. When a family lives in poverty their choices for basic needs are severely limited. Lets take a realistic look at a family you might know.

This family has a Mom, Dad and 2 kids. This family is not using any welfare programs except WIC. They live in a small, 2 bedroom home, with no laundry access in the home. Dad works 40 hours a week and Mom waits on tables a few times a week. This family is doing the best they can with what is available to them. So lets break it down.

Housing: $7,140 (595/month)

Transportation: $2,080 ($40/week)

Utilities: $1,980 ($185/month)

Food: $4,080 ($80/week)

Diapers: $1,920 ($80/month *2)

Child Care: $9,620 ($185/wk)

Hard and Fast costs for a year: $26,820

This doesn’t include anything like emergencies, health care, clothes, Christmas and Birthdays, flat tires, or even car insurance. Worse, it doesn’t include student loan payments.

Now Dad has a job which isn’t too bad, he makes $10/hr. It’s quite a bit more than minimum wage and at least he has a job. Dad wasn’t able to find a job in his field after graduation, despite all the assurances from the college financial counselor. He did find a job in a big box store at least and is working hard and hopeful for eventual promotion. Unfortunately since our little community is so small his options for advancement are not as good because the higher positions don’t come open as often. He does get a health insurance option so at least the family can go to the doctor if they have enough for the copay.

So Dad’s take home for the year, not counting his insurance deductible is $18,585.

Mom had to stop school when baby #2 came along unexpectedly. She found a job at a local diner and is able to work close to 20 hours a week. She also has student loans due because she couldn’t keep going to school with two children and 6 months after you stop school your loans become due. She makes just enough to pay for the childcare, but not much more. If she has a good week she might bring home $200 a week.

Mom averages about $9,604 for the year.

Together they bring home $28,189 a year. If nothing goes wrong.

Now, we all know how this ends. Student loans alone can be as high as $500/month. Sometimes you can get a break and they will bring down the cost per month. The interest still keeps going up and up and the debt escalates out of control. The car is not in good shape and sooner or later it breaks down. So the wiggle room the family has disappears. The baby has been sick frequently and Mom has had to miss a few days of work and the added costs of the medications and copays add to the problems.

This family is working hard. They are not lazy, they are not in their position because they didn’t want to succeed. This family includes a college graduate. This family keeps a clean home, tries to be good parents and good citizens. They know they could apply for welfare but they don’t want to go down that route.

So now, a cycle has started. Mom has been told she will lose her job if she misses any more work. Daycare won’t take the baby if he is sick. The car needs another repair and there is no money to fix it. Dad starts walking to work, trying to keep the car in one piece for as long as possible. Depression starts to set in and both parents are struggling in their relationship. Eventually, after a difficult day at work, Mom finally gets the baby to bed and realizes there is only 6 diapers left. That isn’t enough for her to take the kids to day care tomorrow. The bank account is overdrawn, payday is still two days away. If she stays home with the kids she will lose her job. Dad is angry, his frustration and depression making his temper short. He feels like a failure for not being able to provide for his family. The night gets louder as an argument breaks out. The baby wakes up crying due to the noise. Toddler also wakes up, afraid when he hears his parents yelling.

I don’t have to tell you what can happen next. Shaken baby, domestic violence, aggressive spanking. When a family is facing poverty on a daily basis the statistics show clearly the incidents of these events increases. If you add another adverse event to this family’s life it is possible they will fall apart.

Of course they can apply for welfare benefits, TANF, SNAP, and others. That might free up a few funds for a short period of time. TANF only available for a short period of time, 48 months in MO. SNAP can help alleviate some of the food costs for this family, but with the amount Dad makes it is not a very big allotment. With Dad’s income they may not even qualify for TANF at all.

This family eventually ends up with a visit from Children’s Services. The children are not removed from the home at this time, but a participating in IIS – an intensive intervention with a social worker. The social worker notices the family does not have some of the basic things most people take for granted. They don’t have kleenex, even though the baby has frequent respiratory difficulties. Toilet paper is in the bathroom sometimes, but often it is without. One visit she discovers Mom has been using a washcloth in place of acceptable feminine hygiene products. Both children have been to the doctor frequently with severe diaper rash due to the fact Mom has not changed them as often as she should due to the lack of enough diapers to get them to daycare. Neither parent is able to focus on all of the information the social worker is trying to give them because they are so worried about their marriage, fear of having their children taken away, and not being able to have some of the basic needs most of us take for granted.

Do I know this family? Yes. Is it a real family? No. This is fictitious family which represents some of the families I work with. This is what happens in our community and we don’t always even notice it. If you have never had the experience of needing toilet paper and having to choose between it and baby food then you may not realize what poverty looks like. If you have never had to wait to change a baby because you didn’t have enough diapers to get through day care the next day you may not have ever thought about what poverty looks like. This is a very true picture of people you know, people you love and care about but have kept their secret of poverty hidden.

This is enough for today. I pray you will think about our families in our community who are struggling with poverty. Pray for them, pray for a solution, pray about how you can be a part of the changes which need to be made. I hope this has opened your eyes to a different look at poverty and helped you to realize poverty is not always a heavy person eating tv dinners on a dilapidated couch letting the government take care of them. Poverty has many different looks and no easy answer.

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