Arizona has a Child Poverty Crisis.


Of all the social indicators the people of Arizona want to lead the nation in, having a high level of child poverty is not one of them.

Despite a small decrease in overall child poverty from the periods 2008/2012 to 2013/17, Arizona, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Report, leads the nation in concentrated child poverty in rural areas with a rate of 39 percent. Furthermore, 61 percent of Native American children in Arizona live in concentrated poverty. Twenty-four percent of African Americans and thirty percent of Hispanic children also live in concentrated poverty. Only six percent of white children in Arizona live in concentrated poverty.

Siman Qaasim, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Children’s Defense Alliance, commented that:

“The risks for children who experience poverty when they are young are far too great and create an uneven playing field. Using data like this to help us make smart policy decisions is key. We have to do more to break the cycle of poverty and help struggling families improve their situation, particularly in communities of color and in rural Arizona.” 

The two Democrats vying for their parties nomination for the State Senate seat in the fairly rural Legislative District 11 also offered comments on the Kids Count Report.

JoAnna Mendoza wrote that:

“We, as a state, should be embarrassed and outraged that Arizona has the highest percentage of rural children living in high poverty. As someone who grew up in poverty, this is very personal to me. No child should have to wonder where their next meal is going to come from or have to layer long sleeve shirts and run to school because they can’t afford a coat during the winter. These are experiences that I know well-experiences that I survived.”

“Some might blame parents for being unable to provide for their children. But blaming isn’t a solution. My parents worked very hard and still couldn’t make ends meet. And this hasn’t changed; parents are still struggling to make ends meet every day. As someone who retired from the Marine Corps, I still have to work a full-time job. How can we expect folks to provide for their families when they aren’t even making a livable wage?”  

“This must change! Elected officials must support legislation that reduces adverse childhood experiences for our children. We have an obligation to make things better. In LD 11, 16% percent (compared to the state’s 24 percent) of children live in poverty with the majority of them being children of color. This is proof that rural communities face significant barriers in access to healthcare, education, and housing. Even small changes, like ensuring that our schools are staffed with school nurses can make a difference. The school nurse might be the only exposure to healthcare a child living in poverty will receive.”

Linda Patterson stated that:

“The Childhood Poverty Rate in Arizona is unacceptable. As many as three out of ten children are living in childhood poverty and our government must address it because there are human beings who are represented by these numbers. The test of our progress should not be measured to the abundance we have for those who have much; it is in how much we provide to those who have too little. Tackling childhood poverty is a cause that we all should be able to gather around because these children are victims of a situation created almost exclusively by adults.”

“A great number of these children are malnourished, separated from a parent, live in substandard housing with compromised access to basic needs and become educationally vulnerable. Research shows that the majority of adults who have grown up in these environments have a higher risk of mental health problems/psychological distress and incomes at the bottom fifth of the economic ladder. (Cornell University)”

“We all owe it to these children to provide the necessary services in order for them to gain the dignity they deserve. All of the issues are preventable and reversible. With intervention, we can create conditions that can lead these children to a more promising future.”

“Here are solutions that could reduce poverty and grow the middle class:”

  1. “Create fair wage jobs so workers can make a living wage and join the middle class.”
  2. “Continue to raise the minimum wage as it benefits adolescents in poverty who are working.”
  3. “Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers, enabling young adults to work themselves out of poverty.”
  4. “Support pay equity as most children in poverty is from female single-parent households.”
  5. “Establish work schedules that are predictable as those in poverty can better plan for the balance of work and family. Needing to miss work as a result of appointments for children can result in lost wages and even losing a job.”
  6. “Invest in early childhood education such as Head Start, quality childcare and nutrition so children’s brains and minds can thrive and grow, making them more productive later.”
  7. “Expand Medicaid as adequate healthcare (KidsCare) can keep those in poverty out of catastrophic health events that can lead to bankruptcy.”
  8. “Reform the criminal justice system to enact programs that support successful re-entry into society. Trained workers can earn pay and make their own way forward.”
  9. “Create a culture of “do no harm” so that impoverished families do not become victims of government spending cuts that keep families in poverty.”

“It is possible for our state and nation to dramatically cut rates of poverty. We have done so before and we have the resources to do it again if we set these needs as a priority. Strategic investments for those in poverty can create conditions for children and adults to thrive. In turn, they will create a stronger economy. We just need to build the political will to create the policies that will expand opportunities for a bottom tier of individuals in our society.”

Arizona has a Child Poverty Crisis.

Sergeant Mendoza is right to say that Arizonans should be embarrassed and outraged by leading the nation in so dubious a social justice indicator.

Ms. Qaasim is correct in stating that the children do not deserve to live in this uneven playing field. She is also correct that the cycle of poverty must be broken.

Ms. Patterson proposed common-sense solutions like making investments and increases in Early childhood education, KidsCare/Medicaid, the minimum wage, and Earned Income Tax Credit that would move children and their parents out of poverty into the middle class.

No child should have to go to bed hungry.

No child should have to go to school wearing the same clothes day after day.

No child should live in squalor or worse the street.

Hopefully, when the state legislators arrive for the 2020 legislative session, they will find the funds with the extra $650 million in revenues to make investments in helping Arizona’s most vulnerable population, the state’s children.

The state needs to properly fund education, Kids Care, food assistance, affordable housing, and any anti-poverty programs the legislature has jurisdiction over.

This should take priority over more tax cuts for Arizona’s wealthiest.

This should be an issue everyone can agree on.


Featured Image from Social Work Helper