Vermont’s future economic prosperity threatened by persistent child poverty
“If there’s one thing Vermonters can agree on, it’s that all children deserve the same opportunities in life,” says Carlen Finn, Executive Director of Voices for Vermont’s Children. “Their future and that of Vermont depends on whether we ensure all kids have access to the strong fundamental building blocks: healthy nutrition, safe and stable housing, solid educational foundations, and health care services.”
But new Census data from the 2009 American Community Survey show that as the Great Recession began to take its toll on Vermont’s families, over 16,000 Vermont children were living in conditions that make it difficult for them to prosper and thrive.
Research shows that growing up in persistent poverty poses high risks to early childhood health and development. Economic insecurity often leads to serious and prolonged stress, from a variety of factors: family tensions over a lost job, loss of housing or reliable transportation, food insecurity, or even changes in caregivers. Over time, poverty can become toxic to a child’s emotional and cognitive development, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.
Analysts are especially concerned that the new ACS numbers show that nearly one in five young children are poor. In 2009, 19 percent of Vermont children under the age of 6 were living in poverty, as were 13 percent of all children. When comparing these rates to seniors (7.8%) and working-age adults (11.5%), it is clear that the younger the person in Vermont, the more likely he or she is to be living in poverty.
The good news is that we know what we need to do to reduce child poverty, even in tough economic times. In 2009, the Vermont Child Poverty Council issued a series of recommendations to cut child poverty in half by 2017. The new Census data illustrate that if we hope to attain our goal of reducing child poverty, we need to act now to ensure we have a strong safety net that helps working families and their children move out of poverty and into a more economically secure position.
When thousands of children grow up in poverty, Vermont loses the value of their unrealized potential. As a result, the economic prosperity of our state suffers.
“It is both wrong and unaffordable to leave so many children disadvantaged by economic insecurity,” explains Nicole Mace, Research Coordinator at Voices for Vermont’s Children. “We cannot have economic growth in the future if so many of tomorrow’s workforce start out in poverty now. Today’s poverty numbers should be a wake-up call for urgent investments to help parents get back to work and to meet their basic needs.