Letter to the Editor from our President, Michael Petit


Letters to the Editor August 24, 2012
Re NYT Child Poverty Article of 8/19/12

To the Editor:

As someone involved with child poverty for more than 40 years, including a stint as a state health and human services commissioner who administered federal funds, I can vouch that federal redistributive income policies are central to lifting children out of poverty. Paul Tough’s NYT article has some merit re individual responsibility, mentoring and education, but he’s wrong when he minimizes the central role of the federal government and federal funds.

 Exhibit A: In 1960 the elderly were the most poor cohort; today they are the least impoverished. In 1960 children were the 2nd poorest cohort; today they’re the poorest. What accounts for the difference? On the scale that we’re discussing — millions out of poverty — it isn’t because the elderly worked harder, have more private pensions, or saved more. The big reasons are Social Security with its cost of living adjustments, Medicare and Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income,public housing, food stamps and more.

Is the 7 to 1 greater federal spending ratio on seniors versus kids based on need? No. It’s based principally on their greater political power, of course. An additional, often overlooked factor: anti-poverty measures that benefit the elderly are largely set in Washington, meaning that the benefits are the same from Maine to California.

Child poverty programs are much more influenced by the political and racial whims of states — which accounts for why Medicaid and welfare benefits are so low in some states and much higher in others. In the case of seniors they are treated as Americans first. In the case of children they are treated as Texas and South Carolina children first and American children second — much to their detriment. I wrote a short book on this topic just before the Great Recession slammed the poor. It was bad then. It’s worse now. E-mail me at mpetit@everychildmatters.org if you want a free e-version of the book.

Michael Petit, President, Every Child Matters, Washington, DC August 24, 2012