Poverty in the United States: As it continues to rise, it has serious impact on children and families Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

As we continue reflections during Respect Life Month, we should reflect on the standard of living in this country and how it impacts children and families.

We all need food, clothing, and shelter to live healthy, happy lives. Yet statistics show that 46.2 million Americans are living below the poverty line. That means that many families have to make hard choices as they face hunger and can’t afford housing or health care for themselves and their children.

Poverty continues to rise

Poverty continues to rise, according to information found on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) on the U.S. bishops’ Web site ( In 2010, 15.1 percent of Americans were living in poverty  —  up from 14.3 percent in 2009.

What’s especially sad is the number of children living in poverty.  The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University reports that nearly 15 million children in the United States  — 21 percent of all children —live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $22,050 a year for a family of four.

Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 42 percent of children live in low-income families.

The NCCP reports that most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet.

Effects of poverty on children

Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems, says the NCCP. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty.

Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being. But effective public policies — to make work pay for low-income parents and to provide high-quality early care and learning experiences for their children — can make a difference. Investments in the most vulnerable children are also critical.

Church helps the poor

Besides its charitable programs through Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and other effects, the Catholic Church has been helping get at the root causes of poverty through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Since 1970 when it was established by the U.S. Catholic bishops, CCHD has assisted nearly 4,000 self-help projects developed by grassroots groups of poor people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — with more than $270 million in support through private donations and annual parish collections.

Grants are awarded on the basis of need, not religious affiliation. The CCHD support self-sufficiency and self-determination as the best strategies for change. It supports projects that break the cycle of poverty for good.

How to get involved

The CCHD also provides some strategies that all of us can follow in getting involved and helping end poverty for good. The CCHD provides three steps:

Learn. The first step to solving a problem is understanding it — learning about the root causes of poverty and how people are finding success in ending it. The CCHD Web site provides some easy steps you can take to learn more about poverty.

Act. You can help increase awareness of poverty in America and advocate for change in your community. The CCHD provides some simple ways to participate, act, and get involved.

Give. Whether it’s giving your time and talent, donating materials or money, or contributing resources, you can make a difference in the lives of the nearly 37 million Americans who are working for independence from poverty. The CCHD provides some suggestions for giving. One way is to contribute to the CCHD collection taken in Catholic parishes the weekend before Thanksgiving.

There are many ways we can educate ourselves about poverty in this country and work to make changes that respect the dignity of all persons from womb to tomb.