We’ll Pay Sooner Or Later For Cuts In Children’s Services

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It’s not easy being poor, and being a poor child is particularly difficult, especially if you live in a state in the middle of a budgetary crisis, like Connecticut.

And that’s rough, given that more U.S. girls live in poverty now than in 2007, pre-Great Recession, according to The State of Girls 2017: Emerging Truth and Troubling Trends, a recent study from the Girl Scout Research Institute.

Using data from the Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics, the report paints a scary picture of the economics of being a girl in the U.S. (Other research topics from the institute, founded in 2000 as an arm of the venerable girls’ organization, include the impact of reality television on girls, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and girls.)

From the report:

• A total of 41 percent of American girls live in low-income households, compared to 38 percent in 2007. Low-income means that a family earns less than twice the federal poverty level, which in 2016 was $24,300 for a family of four.

• More than half of African-American, Hispanic/Latina, and American Indian girls are considered low-income in the U.S.

• Connecticut has one of the country’s lowest girls’ poverty rates, at 13 percent.

But there’s not much to celebrate—at least we’re not Mississippi, where childhood poverty rates run around 32 percent.

Talk Poverty, an advocacy project of the progressive organization, Center for American Progress, says that overall 14.2 percent of the state’s children were living in poverty in 2015. Just over half of the state’s population is female. Roughly 21 percent of the state’s population is under the age of 18.

Children’s programs represent only 29 percent of the state’s proposed biennial budget.

Children who grow up in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing divorce, housing instability, and subsequent interruptions to their education. In addition, if poverty is extreme enough, a child will not get proper nutrition, which affects early brain development, which affects education, and the subsequent ability to get a well-paying job.

The challenges don’t stop there. A recent U.K. report published in The Lancet followed families who had slipped into poverty. The report found that children whose family had become poor were 40 percent more likely to develop social, emotional, or behavioral problems than their wealthier peers.

In Connecticut’s proposed biennial budget, according to research from the advocacy/policy group Connecticut Voices for Children, investment in programs that directly serve children (such as early care, health care, and health and human services—or what the organization called the “Children’s Budget”) would fall to 29 percent of the state’s general fund spending in the coming fiscal year. That’s a record low. In the early ’90s, according to the organization, the state invested 40 percent of its budget to its children.

Do we really want to do that?

Joan Barere, senior policy analyst of children and family at the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said the tough questions come to us courtesy of the state’s budget crisis. As for legislators, she said: “What we advocate is that as you are making the hard decisions, try to remember some of these decisions that you are making have very, very long-term consequences,” especially when considering issues such as early childhood development.

If you cut, say, Birth to Three programs, and choose not to provide services for families dealing with delays or disabilities with their infants and toddlers, then those children will most likely need other, costlier services later. So do you, as Barere said, kick the can down the road with the hope that the state will be in better financial shape later? And what about those children in the interim? What opportunities will they miss? Will there be services—costly though they will be—to help them catch up later?

Susan Campbell is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven. She can be reached at slcampbell417@gmail.com.