But that’s not good enough. Our reaction should be intense and unrelenting.
Last week’s release of the annual Kids Count report by VOICES for Alabama’s Children provided its usual description of the welfare of this state’s youngest residents. Good was sprinkled liberally among the bad.
Yet, the head-turning part of this year’s Kids Count report detailed poverty — specifically, the astounding percentage of Alabama children whose families continue to live below the federal poverty line of $21,756 for a family of four. That’s especially the case on this side of the state.
How fitting — sadly — that the Kids Count report shined more light on Alabama poverty the same week that new U.S. Census figures showed the depths of this state’s neediness.
Call poverty in America what it is: an epidemic. Don’t mislabel it. Nationally, the poverty rate for 2009 was 14.5 percent, the highest rate in 15 years. In Alabama, a state all too familiar with poverty’s wide-ranging effects, 17.5 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
Broken down into ground-level numbers, that’s more than 804,000 Alabamians who are impoverished. Of those, 340,000 live in what’s considered “deep poverty” of less than half of the poverty line.
And Alabama’s children? Kids Count rips the cover off the deplorable reality. More than 1 in 5 — 22 percent — of Alabama kids are needy, but numbers for Calhoun and Cleburne counties are worse, particularly for black children who historically rank near the bottom of many social and economic data. More than 42 percent of black children in Calhoun County, and nearly 69 percent of black children in Cleburne County, are impoverished, Kids Count says.
Advocates for change in Alabama have long cried for the need to address poverty; usually those pleas are met with polite nods and political inaction. Each year, statistics provided by Kids Count and the Census illustrate the profound problem. Each year, little changes. Montgomery’s consistency in this regard is frightening.
That the Great Recession has increased the plight of the state’s poor is obvious, but don’t give this downturn more due than it deserves. This recession didn’t cause poverty in Alabama. Instead, lay blame where it belongs.
Lay blame on Goat Hill politicians who won’t support legislation — such as removing state sales tax on food — that would significantly aid low-income Alabamians.
Lay blame on community leaders who see helping the poor as something best left for food banks and churches, and those who lack the leadership to attack poverty’s causes with the gusto it requires.
And, in fact, lay blame on all in Alabama for not creating a constant, unbearable din in support of doing more to help low-income residents better themselves with better workforce training, better jobs and better futures for their families.
The numbers are stark. The pain is real. The statewide effect is profound. Alabama can, and must, do better.