Cepeda column: War on Poverty is far from over for black and Hispanic children
CHICAGO — A mere two months ago, President Trump’s White House declared the War on Poverty “largely over and a success.” The administration argued that few Americans are truly poor anymore — it estimated that the poverty rate was only about 3 percent — and that the economy’s upward tide would continue to lift the boats of those who remained poor.
Millions of Hispanic and black infants and toddlers would beg to disagree, if only they could.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2017 annual report on poverty, and there’s no question that the numbers were, in the aggregate, positive.
The national poverty rate declined from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 12.3 percent in 2017, marking the third successive drop.
But the devil is in the details.
The same data set reveals that one in five children up to 2 years old were poor (19.9 percent) — a number almost identical to the 2016 rate. In fact, infants and toddlers represented the age group most likely to live in poverty, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center.
Child Trends underscores the enormity of the problem by highlighting that in 2017, nearly one in three black infants and toddlers (32.7 percent) and more than one in four Hispanic infants and toddlers (27.3 percent) lived in poverty, compared with approximately one in nine (11.8 percent) white, non-Hispanic infants and toddlers.
In fact, the younger and more vulnerable the kids, the worse off they’ve become.
“While the overall percentage of infants living in poverty significantly increased between 2016 and 2017 from 17.2 percent to 20.2 percent, the largest increases were among black and Hispanic infants, for whom the poverty rate rose by 6 and 8 percentage points — 28.5 to 34.4 percent and 20.7 to 28.4 percent, respectively,” Child Trends noted on its blog.
There is also the potential for the situation to get bleaker if the economy starts cooling down. And expect that Hispanic children would be among the hardest hit if the president gets his way and sees to it that the Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and federal rental subsidies are cut.
Already, the Trump administration has moved to limit access to green cards and/or naturalization to lawfully present immigrants if they — or anyone living in their household — have ever used children’s health insurance (CHIP), “Obamacare,” SNAP or other social safety-net benefits. This is scaring off the parents of U.S.-born Hispanic children.
After news of the limits first spread in late August, health providers across the country started getting emotional phone calls from lawfully present and undocumented immigrant families pleading to be dropped from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) federal nutrition program for pregnant women and kids, according to Politico. “Agencies in at least 18 states say they’ve seen drops of up to 20 percent in enrollment, and they attribute the change largely to fears about the immigration policy.”
The target of Trump’s most dehumanizing policies has been immigrants, specifically poor ones, even though immigrants who are living in this country unlawfully are absolutely not eligible for any public-assistance benefits. And of those who are lawfully present and eligible, working households headed by an immigrant without a high school degree use fewer welfare services than their native household counterparts.
It hardly matters. For the Trump administration, babies, toddlers and other young children are apparently expendable, disposable and unworthy of any kind of mercy if they’re Latino — regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or refugees seeking asylum at the border.
Yet it’s not just a Hispanic issue.
There are 4.2 million black immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2016 — up from just 816,000 in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. About 85 percent of them are lawfully present, as refugees or asylees or due to Temporary Protected Status because their home countries experienced catastrophic disasters.
Even if they exist below the radar, they’re no less vulnerable to being scared away from government child benefits that their U.S.-born kids are legally entitled to.
Let’s be clear: If the War on Poverty is over, it’s being replaced by a war on black and brown children, regardless of their immigration status.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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