Childhood Poverty Ends With Us.

Gavin Newsom and Autumn Burke

Gavin Newsom
Dec 23, 2017 · 8 min read

As you gather with your families over this holiday season, we should all take a moment to think about the nearly two million California kids whose holiday season probably looks a lot different than your own.

1.9 million California children — one in five who live in our great state — are living in poverty. Often these kids and their families aren’t able to count on even a basic standard of living — like keeping a steady roof over their heads or knowing where their next meal will come from. As their families struggle to afford basic necessities, rudimentary school supplies or school clothes become luxury goods that look far out of reach.

Over the past decade, advances in cognitive research have shown that the stress that comes with growing up in poverty quite literally alters children’s brains, making it nearly impossible for them to focus on their schoolwork.

And, with that in mind, it’s no surprise that study after study shows just how debilitating growing up in poverty is to a kid’s potential in life. It’s correlated with lower educational attainment, lower incomes, increased likelihood of homelessness and, devastatingly, increased likelihood of interacting with the criminal justice system. No kid should be denied a fair shot at success in life because of their parent’s income, but for so many kids in this state, that is all too often the case.

California is a place of unparalleled economic opportunity, where high tech comes to take flight, where our creative workforce entertains and connects the world, and where our agricultural products feed America. But we also claim the highest poverty rate in the nation. Almost one-third of African American children and one-third of Latino children live in poverty. More children live in poverty in California than in any other state. And while our state’s unemployment rate has declined since the Great Recession, our child poverty rate has remained mostly stagnant. That’s a moral outrage.

California can never claim to be a leader of the human condition as long as we lead the nation in childhood poverty. This is a surmountable crisis, but we must make it a moonshot priority in every corner of our state.

We’ve been working on these issues for quite some time. In the State Assembly, Autumn passed The Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act — bipartisan, landmark legislation aimed at lifting one million Californian children out of poverty over the next 20 years.

When Gavin was Mayor of San Francisco, he took dramatic steps to fight poverty, including the nation’s first universal healthcare program, a groundbreaking subsidized employment program that employed over 5,000 jobless during the Great Recession, a major investment in rebuilding public housing, and what-was-then the nation’s only local Earned Income Tax Credit.

As a candidate for Governor, he’s making the elimination of child poverty the north star of a Newsom administration. Every policy will be guided by that goal.

We’re now teaming up to move this fight forward. Here are some of the ideas we believe will help ensure equal access to opportunity and prosperity for all of our children.

It’s a two pronged strategy, one that starts with boosting initiatives that help kids who are growing up in deep poverty today. The second thrust consists of developing a long-term strategy to break the cycle of multi-generational poverty through education and creating real opportunities for economic advancement for every child.

Immediate Action To Combat Deep Poverty

In the immediate term, our leaders in Sacramento must do more to help young people and their families who are currently living in deep poverty. The deck has been stacked against too many kids — particularly those from households at the bottom of the income ladder. Families in many parts of California have battled wage stagnation, income inequality, persistent unemployment and exorbitant housing costs, and a faltering safety net. And the stress of deep poverty has created an almost insurmountable barrier to economic advancement for so many families.

Our state’s fight for kids who are living in deep poverty needs a shot in the arm. Here are three ways we can act now to help those families:

Reward Work: California can, and must, get serious about preparing folks for the jobs of today and tomorrow by refocusing our career tech and workforce development programs. We then have to expand our statewide Earned Income Tax Credit for very low-income earners — a program that rewards work and allows families to keep more of their hard-earned money.

Restore Benefits: California can, and must, dramatically increase CalWORKS grants, a life-changing program that provides financial and other assistance to families in need. Most very poor children live in homes with parents on welfare, but the grants those families receive have lost much of their their purchasing power over the last 20 years. They’re not enough to pay for a decent apartment, let alone the other necessities like food and clothing, a kid needs to thrive. It’s also time to explore allowing welfare recipients to keep a greater portion of their grant aid.

Take on California’s Housing Crisis: California can, and must, tackle our state’s housing affordability crisis. We need to build 3.5 million new units of housing by 2025 and strengthen housing assistance programs and tenant protections. For those without a roof over their head, we must expand permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing for families, all led by a statewide Secretary of Homelessness.

But our state can’t fight this battle alone. Simply put, Congress has dropped the ball and failed to follow through on their commitment to needy kids. The federal entitlement programs we rely on to help fund these priorities have not kept up with the cost of living — not even close. Federal block grant dollars haven’t been increased in 20 years.

Washington needs to step up to the plate and invest far more in critical child care and employment training opportunities, whether that’s through TANF or another program. Even on the state level, we must invest more in helping kids who are growing up in poverty.

Until we recognize child poverty in California as a public health crisis, the longer we’re working against our own best interests. We all can see how ensuring every child has a fair start in life will make a world of difference for families at the bottom of the income ladder — but it also benefits our society as a whole. When we let kids waste their God-given potential because they aren’t given the tools to succeed, then we are only hurting ourselves. Giving up on kids hurts our state’s potential for economic growth, and it increases a wide variety of costly outcomes — from high school dropout rates to future reliance on safety net programs.

Combating Multi-Generational Poverty

While helping families who are currently in deep poverty is the immediate priority in our anti-poverty agenda, those efforts must be part of a broader strategy to eradicate multi-generational poverty. That means making far-sighted investments that increase economic opportunity for all people and fight income inequality.

Support Families and Close the Readiness Gap: We’re big believers in universal preschool but waiting until three years old is already too late. With approximately 85% of brain development happening in the first three years of a child’s life, we must get serious about closing the readiness gap with expanded prenatal services, developmental screenings, and home visiting programs. We need affordable high quality childcare, which will pay dividends for our children’s growth, and for our state’s economic growth. And our early childhood strategy must also include expanded family leave because a parent should never have to choose between a job and taking care of a new child.

Make Higher Education More Accessible and Affordable: We have plans to equip all entering kindergarten students with a college savings account, build a college-going culture in elementary school, and achieve a return to an affordable, accessible, high-quality public higher education.

Set Up Kids for Success In The Workforce Of Tomorrow: While the push to provide college for everyone is an important effort, many Californians will never earn a bachelor’s degree. Let’s connect our systems for career readiness to industry and workforce development boards, all aligned with our goal to establish 500,000 earn-and-learn apprenticeships by 2029. We’ve got to get serious about the future of work, equipping folks with the skills they need for the jobs of the twenty-first century, and providing opportunities for lifelong learning to keep Californians competitive.

Protect Fundamental Human Needs: We’re going to build those 3.5 million new units of housing we need by 2025, and once and for all, implement a coordinated, statewide plan to tackle homelessness. And we’ll build an economy where healthcare is a human right, not a corporate commodity. Universal access is an economic imperative, and together we can achieve a system where everyone gets care, regardless of your ability to pay or immigration status.

If we’re going to eliminate childhood poverty now and in the future, it’ll require all of the above and more, a Marshall-like plan to make the California Dream real for everyone — because the foundation of that dream — obtaining a quality education, securing and keeping a good paying job, finding affordable housing, and making life better for our children — must be within reach of all Californians.

President Lincoln once said, “While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everyone else.”

We don’t begrudge success. We simply believe that every Californian deserves to share in our growth.

It’s time to demand more. Big ideas. Bold solutions. It will require a genuine commitment from our elected leaders, and from all of you. But we promise this: we will be relentless in charting a new future where all California kids have the chance to realize their full potential. Let’s join together to fight for a better future, and let that be our holiday commitment to one another.

Gavin Newsom

Written by

Husband & father. Former SF mayor & 49th Lt. Gov. of California. Dedicated to equal rights & the economic recovery of California. Author of Citizenville.

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