Four. Hundred. Thousand.

Linda Oyon

Cross-posted from

That’s how many of Arizona’s children live in poverty. 400,000 children who are likely food insecure, with a dim outlook for the future. Let’s face it. The American Dream is no longer the promise it once was. Yes, those who work very hard can still make something of themselves in our country, but it is no longer a given that a child, even one who really applies themselves, will be better off than his or her parents.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes an annual Kids Count Databook that rates states in on how children fare in each of the 50 states. In the 2016 report, Arizona ranked:

  • 45th in overall child well-being
  • 39th in economic well-being
  • 44th in education
  • 45th in health
  • 46th in family and community

Not statistics to be proud of by any imagination. Not surprising either, since with one in five (1.26 million) living below the poverty line, Arizona is second to last in the nation, in front of only Mississippi.

Despite what the privatization pushers would have you believe, the number one problem facing our community district schools is poverty. As for those who would say, “they ought to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps” not only do you need boots to have bootstraps but how is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps technically even possible? And for those who say it is a parental responsibility to care for their children, I say absolutely! But, over one-third of the households in Arizona are single parents. Want to bet the vast majority of these households live in poverty?

I’m not saying that poor families can’t be good families. Far from it. What I am saying is that being poor makes everything else tougher to deal with. Those of us who are fortunate to live well above the poverty line can’t imagine the day-to-day challenges of being poor. Once, while running for political office, my wife took the SNAP Challenge. This required her to live for a week on a food budget of a little over $4 per day. (SNAP, an acronym for the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is also known as “food stamps.”) The challenge was, well, challenging, and that’s just one very small glimpse of what it means to be poor. For children, it can mean that the only meal they get each day is the one they get at school. That makes learning more difficult and illness more likely.

For the rest of us, it means missed opportunities and wasted resources.  This, because we will never know from where the next President, successful businessperson, literary genius, or incredible athlete will come. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all came from poor roots. Lebrun James and soccer star Pele grew up in poor families. Oprah, who grew up in extreme poverty, is the daughter of an unmarried teen. John Paul DeJoria (Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron tequila) lived in a foster home and spent time in an L.A. street gang. Andrew Carnegie, considered one of the largest benefactors of libraries and educational institutions across the country, worked in factories as a child and forced himself to sleep at night so he would forget his constant hunger. Yes, these people were probably special to start with, but they didn’t make it big all on their own. Which poor kids have we already written off that could have had similar stories if only we’d provided them the right support? And for those who might not be moved by thoughts of disadvantaged poor children or the missed opportunities surrounding them, I offer the sheer economics of this crisis.

“In the mid-1990s”, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris said in her recent TED talk, “a decade-long study of 17,500 adults (70 percent Caucasian and college educated) conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC, found childhood trauma dramatically increased the risk for 7 out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Depending on the amount of trauma experienced, those exposed had triple the risk of heart disease and lung cancer, 4-1/2 times the risk of depression, 12 times the risk of suicide ideality and a 20-year decrease in life expectancy. Almost 13 percent of the population has had significant exposure, yet 20-plus years later, doctors are still not trained in routine screening or treatment.

Children in foster care have generally had to deal with more than their share of trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse; neglect; living with parents with drug and/or alcohol addiction; and much more. In Arizona, the state is seeing an alarmingly large increase in the number of children living in foster care due to abuse or neglect. “The rate grew by 87% between 2009 and 2015 and the number of children in foster care more than doubled in seven counties.” As of March of this year, there were 18,906 kids in out-of-home care, seven percent more than the 17,592 children from a year ago. By 2016, the number was more than 19,000. This, after Governor Ducey fired the head of the Department of Child Safety for systemic problems with that agency’s ability to protect children. The problems obviously still exist.

Arizona’s Children’s Action Alliance says there is “growing and unmanageable stress on families, the destruction of the safety net to help families before they are in crisis, and the lack of effective child welfare policies and practices to keep children safely at home. Resulting consequences include huge costs to taxpayers, an overwhelmed and unsustainable child protective services system, a shortage of foster families with children sleeping in offices and living in shelters, and life-changing trauma for thousands of children. Arizonans will bear the effects for many years to come, as children who have experienced foster care are far more likely to fail in school, become homeless, and suffer with poor mental and physical health.”

Providing the right support to help children grow into productive citizens is money in the bank. Prenatal care is less expensive than preschool and preschool is less expensive than prison. Ensuring much better outcomes, while ultimately saving taxpayer dollars, should be something everyone can get behind.


  1. An outpouring of false compassion. Poverty was on a steep downward trajectory until the massive welfare programs of the great society kicked in. Now welfare perpetuates itself.

    The dstructiveness has been well documented. Welfare children experience 3 million fewer words by the age of three.

    There is no food insecurity. The typical Title one school throws out over 30 pounds of food a day that children chose not to eat. Its just sitting there on the table in its original wrapping for any child to pick up if they have the slighest bit of hunger. They dont.

    I grew up experiencing hunger 3 out of seven days. We even ate the bones. You would have to search high and low to find a child that has missed a meal due to lack of food in this state.

    The welfare state has become so beneficial that an unemployed and married father of four would have to make $60,000 a year to equal his families welfare benefits.

    The welfare state: totally destructive, completely ensnaring, quickly becoming inescapable.

    Someone trapped in welfare destroys two jobs.

    • 1. It’s not false compassion unless it is coming from you John.
      2. Poor children experience 3 million fewer words…tying it to welfare is your wicked twist on it.
      3. Children don’t eat some of the food because it sucks. You wouldn’t eat it either. You are dead wrong though that there isn’t any hunger. We see it in our school district.
      4. Maybe the fact that you were often hungry proves my point about how important it is that children are not food insecure?
      5. I would offer the reason there is welfare is because it is cheaper than properly funding family planning, public education, and job training. We could help people escape welfare if we wanted, but there’s that political will thing.
      Oh by the way John, no matter what…the children are NOT freakin’ responsible for their position in life. And they deserve better.

  2. Great story, Linda.

    Yes, basic income make sense. Progressives and Libertarians have talked about this. Recently, there was a great NPR segment with a Libertarian economist talking about basic income and how that can reduce the size of government and help more people directly. Basic income could be gauged to eliminate homelessness. I think giving everyone $1000 and eliminating cumbersome, ineffective poverty programs that eat up $$$$$$$$ to administer is an idea worth investigating.

    • Thanks Pam. If only we could all open our hearts and minds to work together to solve these huge problems. I believe it could be done, by like with so many of the massive problems facing us, we just don’t have the political will. We need people in office who will do what is right versus what is expedient. Like maybe Powers for the People?

  3. Nothing to add to here except that it is a sad, sorry state of affairs when animals understand better than many humans that we have to protect and nurture the children, not just our own children. Anyone who can suppress that instinct has been heavily propagandized into supporting “conservative” ideologies based mostly on incomprehensible greed.

    (Some great pictures for article below at the link.)

    Monkey Saves Puppy From The Streets Of India
    by Karen Harrison January 23, 2016

    In Rode, India, an unlikely pair have become famous for their adorable parent/child relationship.

    Both strays, a rhesus macaque and a tiny brown and white puppy have been seen everywhere together. The monkey seems to have a adopted the pooch as his baby, protecting him from the dangers of life on the streets. Without his protector, it’s hard to tell how the pup would’ve survived all alone.

    The paternal primate defends the pup from vicious strays…

    He makes sure his little one is always well fed…

    And never lets his baby out of sight.

    The two have become quite a spectacle to the locals, who often set out food for the duo.

    Since the story has gone viral, amazed onlookers from around the world are delighted to witness the bond that has crossed species lines.

    “People who have seen them spoke of their strong mutual affection and described their bond as the most caring thing in the world — to take care of a puppy in danger and protect him like a parent,” says an article by Zee News India.

  4. Linda, your message tugs at the heart strings. It also speaks eloquently about THE “mission impossible” that has been around since Johnson initiated his Great Society in 1968. That “Mission”? To eliminate poverty.

    It is a dream we would all like to see happen, but it cannot and will not ever occur. No matter how wealthy a society is, someone earns less than others and those who earn less make up the poor. No matter how much we may wish it were otherwise, we will always have the poor. We can fund these programs you speak of, but they do little to change the basic situation that exists, which is poverty.

    You say that pre-emptive action is cheaper than the cost of picking up the pieces after the fact, but that is not necessarily the case. Like preventive medicene, the cost of trying to prevent what might happen can easily become exorbitant. Now don’t accuse me of being hard hearted and not caring what happens to the poor. I do care. But I am not blind to the inefectiveness of many of these programs at accomplishing what they say they will accomplish.

    No society has ever eliminated poverty and no one ever will.

    • Thanks for the read and comment Steve. I hear you. But…giving up isn’t the answer either. If I was granted one wish by a genie, it would be that no child goes without enough food, decent shelter, adequate education, or love. I don’t consider myself a bleeding heart, but children shouldn’t suffer. Especially in the richest country in the world.

      • You are very kind, Linda. It happens that I agree with you. We should try and do things to help alleviate some of the pain and disadvantages of poverty.

    • “No society has ever eliminated poverty and no one ever will.”

      The first part of your declaration may be true, Steve, but the second part almost seems as if you want that to be the case. If you place poverty levels in various countries on one axis and national wealth and income on the other, there is a clear, inverse relationship, with the United States being a complete outlier.

      • I thought you would respond to this, Bob. We have discussed this before and you have taken me to task for not understanding that a nation as wealthy should be able to do something eliminate poverty. I consider an economis absolute that poverty will always exist no matter what we try and do. Nothing we have tried so far has worked; Nothing we are currently doing is working; And I suspect nothing we do in the future will make any difference. I don’t want that to be the way it is, but I don’t think we should delude ourselves that there might some magical program out there that will eliminate poverty. If we are going to fund programs to help the poor (and I think we should), then let us be realistic about it and admit that these programs are only “band aids” that may alleviate some of the pain of poverty.

        • Steve, Milton Friedman was a Chicago School, conservative economist. Yet he believed the elimination of poverty was reachable. How? A basic income guarantee. He called it a negative income tax, but it’s the same thing. When per capita income is close to $50,000 (that’s $50,000 for each man, woman and child), or $150,000 for a family of three, why do you think it is so out of reach to make sure each citizen is at the poverty line ($24,000 for a family of four) or better? That’s not even 20% of per capita income. The wealthier countries of the world (Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands) all are moving towards a basic income guarantee. America could do it. We just don’t have the will.

          • Bob, you know I respect your intelligence and your ability to grasp economics. You have a much better grasp of the complexities of how economies work and I am often left in the dust when you explain how things work. Milton Friedman was a giant in the world of economics. But I think both of you are wrong on the subject of eliminating poverty. It just doen’t pass the common sense test.

            If we established a base guaranteed income of $50,000 a year for every man, woman, and child in America, there would be a period of prosperity as people enjoyed their new found wealth. But eventually the economy would adjust to account for the new found wealth. As people could afford more the prices for goods and services would go up as demand went up. Inflation would soon eliminate whatever advantage the guaranteed base income provided.

            In time, those people earning the guaranteed base income would be the earners at the bottom of the wage and earnings pyramid. Prices would have spiraled upward and their purchasing power would have dropped. They would, once again, become the very definition of poverty.

            I just don’t see how that dynamic can be changed. Someone will always be at the bottom of the wage and earning scale and they will be the people living in poverty. Where am I wrong?

          • Hi Steve. I know you are “talking” to Bob, but I’d just like to offer one thought. Isn’t it the social safety net that keeps people from suffering the abject effects of poverty? When people have the basics provided for them, such as health care (to include mental health) and education (to include college), doesn’t that mitigate the effects of being at the bottom of the wage and earning scale? I am thinking of Maslow’s Hierarchy here – when people’s physiological and safety needs are met, it is easier for them to work their way further up the pyramid.

          • Linda, neither neither Bob nor I have any problem with you joining the discussion. It is an open forum and all opinions are sought after.

            I agree with completely. Programs to help people living in poverty can go along way in mitigating some of the effects of poverty. We who have done well have an obligation to help those less fortunate. I contribute a significant amount of my income to organizations and agencies that offer programs that work in providing assistance. The key phrase there is “that work”. There are too many programs out there that seem to have the primary purpose of providing jobs to the staff that administers the program. There are also a significant number of programs out there that exist based on sheer inertia, regardless of performance outcomes. I like to see a significant percentage of the funding actually going to the purpose for which the program was established.

            You and I are not far apart in what we would like to see, I think.

          • Agree Steve. Many good organizations, but many that promise big and deliver small. That’s why it’s important for donors to do due diligence as I’m sure you do. Percentage going to beneficiaries or cause versus admin is always important to check. And, as you mention, verifying return on investment is always key.

          • Steve, you misunderstood my earlier point. I wasn’t suggesting we boost the poor up to $50,000 per person. I was saying we should boost them up to the poverty line and no further, which I think is what Friedman contemplated, or close.

            A few points. First, I agree with your criticism of poorly conceived “programs.” But don’t the problems come in when we attempt to make value judgments in administering programs. Social Security and Medicare work very well. Why? Because if you’re old enough, you get the benefits. You don’t have to pass some subjective or objective test as to why you need them.

            Today’s safety net for the poor is littered with these value judgments, and with design flaws where work causes one to lose most of the income she earns because of lost benefits.

            As for the inflationary effect, you should reconsider your math. The amount needed to fund a basic income guarantee would not be that large, once the elimination of other safety net programs is taken into account. And we have a relative abundance of things those at the poverty line spend their money on (food, housing, low-end clothing).

            Remember the old Bobby Kennedy quote, Steve, about not seeing things that are and asking why, but dreaming of what could be and asking “why not?”. You should consider channelling that a bit more.

          • Love two points you made Bob! 1. Today’s safety net for the poor is littered with these value judgments, and with design flaws where work causes one to lose most of the income she earns because of lost benefits. 2. Remember the old Bobby Kennedy quote, Steve, about not seeing things that are and asking why, but dreaming of what could be and asking “why not?” After all is said and done, the only things left are hope or despair. I choose hope.

          • You are correct that I did misunderstand your earlier posting and I appreciate your follow-up to correct me. I had used the $50,000 figure because it was the figure you used. The poverty line is a much more reasonable figure.

            I also must have missed it when you said the minimum base income would include the elimination of the poverty programs currently in place. That would minimize the inflationary effect. The money being spent would not necessarily be new funding but, rather, would be funding already being provided but without the judgement factor.

            And I agree about the judgement factor being a critical flaw in our current system of poverty programs. I never thought about that so directly, but you are correct when you say that tends to make the programs ineffective. My youngest brother, who has not always made the best decisions in life, has told me how hard he works to keep his reportable income down in order to keep his government benefits as high as possible. It is a trap that will haunt him his entire life.

  5. republiscum say abortion is murder but after your born kid your on your own. I remember going into circle k’s not that many years ago when we didn’t even have access and seeing pictures of children needing money to fund their operation. many children died. do we have democrats who are running for office who say we are going to get you republican vermin for the many deaths you have caused in this state for poor people without healthcare. NO we have fred duvals asking for these killers vote instead of latino votes. I have a question for donna gatehouse where are you?

Comments are closed.