Poverty and Our Most Precious Resource
I've been a teacher for almost 15 years. I've worked in many different schools and communities and have seen successful schools and schools that struggle. Teachers that work hard. Students that come to school everyday. But the biggest factor that determine student success may be where they are born. According to the National Counsel on Children in Poverty (NCCP) 49% of children in Kentucky live in families below the threshold for low-income. The NCCP calculates low-income, as 200% of the federal povertycalculation. By the way, the official federal poverty formula hasn't changed since the 1960s. Roughly, for a family of four, this threshold for low-income is $45,000/year.
That fact alone is staggering. We can blame many of the recent events in our nation's economy, but the data would suggest that these numbers are not necessarily entirely due to the recession. Two key numbers magnify the cycle of poverty that we all pay lip-service to, but maybe don't truly understand the magnitude of.
One: 88% of children that live in low-income families have a parent that did not graduate from high school. For decades, we have seen the data that has supported economic prosperity with education attainment and this statistic isn't alarming except for the fact that in 2011, the number of children living in these conditions was roughly 85,500, but couple that with the 68% of children that live in low-income families that have a parent with a high school diploma AND no college experience (approximately 165,000) the number reaches to almost a 250,000. This number reflects the growing insufficiency of a high school degree and the vital necessity for a focus on college and career readiness in high school.
Two: Children born into families that have had little or no academic success typically live the cycle again and again. While much national attention is paid to the struggles of urban families, and with good cause, Kentucky's unique demographics suggest that the difficulties and obstacles faced by families with low-income are special to our geography. Without any real "large" metropolitan areas (Louisville ranks 31st nationally and has an approximate population of 750,000), the low-income families needing access to the potential services that could disrupt the cycle are dispersed over a much larger area and with reduced impact. According to the NCCP, 55% of children living in low-income families reside in rural parts of the state. That's approximately 212,000 kids who have access to just the bare essentials for survival and more than likely cannot access the supports and services located several towns or counties away.
Finally, I'm convinced that Dr. Claude Steele's work into stereotype threat plays a significant role in the repetition of the cycle of poverty. The culture of poverty can be measured with statistics like education and locale, but what's much more difficult to measure is the daily bombardment that our most vulnerable live. How difficult it must be to envision and imagine a world of existence that is tantalizingly close but forever away. More importantly, what courage it must take for a child to demand something different and not having any way of knowing how to go about accomplishing it.
My work and this blog will be an attempt to empower each of us to be that pathway for a child seeking a guide. That to remember your worse day, will be the day a child needs you the most. That your best work, will be the role model that could help a child see the world as it could be. That someday in the years to come, future generations will not have to continuously worry about where food, shelter and protection will come.