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As D.C. Dithers, Childhood Poverty Soars

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, the best welfare program is a job.

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That truth becomes more urgent due to this stunning new finding: nearly eight million of    America’s children live in high-poverty areas, up 25% -- or about 1.6 million more since 2000, according to Census data analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Disturbingly, what was once one of the wealthiest states in the country now ranks near the top as having one of the worst child poverty rates. Yes, California is now a fiscal basket case thanks to the cemented hard thinking in Sacramento, a city hijacked by special interests.

More than one million California children live in high-poverty areas, says the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children Now. The researchers note: “That is more than the number of children in high-poverty areas in Arizona, New York and Massachusetts combined. Only Texas has more children living in high-poverty communities."

Did Congress and the White House lose the plot line here? As this presidential campaign rolls forward, ask yourself: What government policies create economic growth? What federal policies create jobs? What government policies will stop this trend of a growing number of children living in despair?

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about 7.9 million, or 11%, of America’s children “are growing up in areas where at least 30% of residents live below the federal poverty level -- about $22,000 per year for a family of four.”

And 6.3 million kids, or 9%, are living in areas which “often lack access to resources that are critical to healthy growth and development, including quality education, medical care and safe outdoor spaces,” the foundation says.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a nonprofit fighting to help disadvantaged children. It was  launched in 1948 in Seattle by UPS (NYSE:UPS) founder James E. Casey and his siblings George, Harry and Marguerite. The children named their nonprofit in honor of their mother.

You can debate whether the Great Recession was fueled by slapshot monetary policies built on the fiat paper dollar, or how Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wall Street caused it by ginning up fake paper built on rotten loans, or how entrepreneurship capitalism didn’t cause the financial crisis, but crony capitalism did.

The inconvenient truth is these eight million children.

This country will not be able to fix this dreadful problem of children living in poverty with policies that treat businesses like piñatas, and keep the economy in neutral gear. Moreover, this country cannot outrun the simple math on entitlement spending.

We are not in a marathon, but a sprint to get economic growth back into this country. And it’s not happening now.

Yes, the unemployment rate was 6.9% when President Barack Obama got elected. Yes, the President will say he inherited this recession, even though that excuse dissolves into nothing when you see that fellow Democrats (and lots of Republicans) have been setting federal policy for decades, including Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Charles Rangel, both around since the Nixon era; Sen. Max Baucus who has been in D.C. since the Carter administration, and Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, Barney Frank, and John Kerry who have been in elected office since the Reagan era.

Priority for this country should have been this simple imperative five years ago when the financial crisis started to break: Jobs.

Not health reform, not green energy, but jobs.

Many Americans know that, and want to work. They would agree with what novelist E.M. Forster said: “Spoonfeeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” They would agree that you can’t have welfare without wealth creation.

Ask yourself why businesses are afraid to invest more than $2 trillion in cash they have parked on their balance sheet in this economy, under this federal government?

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation, says in a statement: “Kids in these high-poverty areas are at risk for health and developmental challenges in almost every aspect of their lives, from education to their chances for economic success as adults.”

And Speer adds: “Transforming disadvantaged communities into better places to raise children is vital to ensuring the next generation and their families realize their potential.”

The group also finds that three-quarters of the children living in areas of concentrated poverty have at least one parent in the labor force.

Almost all states saw the number of children in high-poverty neighborhoods climb, the group says. It finds that states with the highest rates were Mississippi (23%), New Mexico (20%), Louisiana (18%), Texas (17%) and Arizona (16%).

And it says that “although the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico saw their rates decline over the same period, they continue to have higher rates -- 32% and 83%, respectively -- than any state in the country.”

Moreover, the data also toss a harsh spotlight on this ugly fact: “African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely to live in high-poverty communities than their white counterparts.”

Pockets of such harsh poverty crop up across California. The researchers note that about one in four children live in Kern (27%) and Merced (25%) counties, and almost one in three children residing in Long Beach (30%), live in high-poverty areas.

And even though the state average is 11 %, the city of Fresno has nearly four times (43%) as many children living in disadvantaged, high-need neighborhoods.

The research “highlights the huge number of California children living in communities that don’t have the same level of access to high-quality learning opportunities and comprehensive, continuous and affordable health care as children in other areas of the same cities or counties,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, grantee for the project studying California, in a statement.

“California’s budget crisis has hit these children the hardest. Through years of cuts, the state has eroded the public education and health systems on which these children rely. Investments in children make good fiscal sense and should be the last place our state’s policymakers look to cut,” Lempert adds.