Every child deserves a chance to thrive. That’s California’s promise to our children.
Keeping that promise requires making sure that the untapped potential of this historically diverse generation – overwhelmingly children of color – will not be wasted or diverted. It’s the best way we can continue to sustain and grow our dynamic economy, which is the fifth largest in the world, and build a state that is truly on the cutting edge of history.
Right now, the nation’s wealthiest state faces a grim reality: Despite California’s legacy as a national leader in upholding equity, fairness and innovation, we have a greater number and percentage of children in poverty than any other state in the country. More than 3.5 million, or 40 percent, of our children are living at 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, according to U.S. Census and Public Policy Institute of California data. That’s less than an income of $48,600 for a family of four. Meanwhile, California is home to more billionaires than any state and most nations.
This inequity means 3.5 million children live in households that do not have enough resources to pay rising rents or to purchase healthy food. Half of these children are living with one adult working full time. Yet, many children still lack quality drinking water, and their parents can’t access licensed childcare facilities for safe high-quality care and access to critical early learning opportunities.
This doesn’t have to be our reality. We believe we can and will end child poverty. But that’s only if we can mobilize the will and the full scale of resources necessary to bring about real change for our state’s children, unlocking the full potential of every California child.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that ending child poverty is his “North Star.” His plan to reduce the state’s child poverty rate by half by 2039 is a critical and important step toward completely eradicating child poverty in California.
The governor and the California State Legislature have made great progress in addressing childhood poverty and lifting up working families. California lawmakers recently approved a significant expansion to one of the most valuable and effective tools to do just that: the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The bill covers an additional one million low-income Californians and adds a $1,000 “young child credit” to boost the state EITC for households with a child under six. That boost will help the six in 10 households with young children who struggle each month to meet basic needs. The credit also kicks in with $1 of earnings, ensuring that families living on the edge of poverty have necessary resources to put food on the table or a roof over their families’ heads.
These are all critical steps that build off of the work of the Statewide Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force and will make a real difference in children’s lives. In 2017, around 3 million children were lifted out of poverty with the help of public supports, primarily the California EITC. Other crucial public supports include CalFresh, the state’s food assistance program, and CalWORKS, a state program that provides cash aid and services to low-income families.
California has the resources, proven solutions and capability to lift all of our children out of deep poverty in the next few years and to end all child poverty within a generation. Achieving these audacious goals will require all corners of our state – from the business, education, public, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors to elected officials and community leaders – to act now and act boldly.
Investing in our children is not only a moral imperative – it is an investment in our collective future.
Tim Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation. Shimica Gaskins is executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund – California.
Tim Silard and Shimica Gaskins
The Sacramento Bee