The Post and Courier ran a story last week about the increase in childhood poverty in the Charleston tri-county region. This information is not new to those of us in the community and economic development arena who have known about the issue for some time. But what was surprising were the numbers: more than 25 percent of children living in Charleston County live below the federal poverty line. Another way to look at this: one in four children live in poverty. One in four.
The numbers don’t get much better when you expand beyond county lines. Dorchester County reports a 19.1 percent child poverty rate and Berkeley County 23.4 percent. South Carolina as a whole reports a rate of 27 percent.
According to Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, South Carolina ranks 45th in the nation in child well-being. The number of South Carolina children living in poverty has grown 26 percent from 2008-2012.
CLF has explored the relationship between poverty and housing affordability, poverty and equitable food access. We acknowledge the issue of childhood poverty goes beyond these factors, but to what degree? The Children’s Trust of South Carolina conducted a workshop in response to the statistical findings outlined in the P&C article, admitting that “the reality is, a lot of different things are at play. We’re still dealing with a tremendous issue,” said Megan Branham, the Trust’s policy and government liaison.
So how can we in the community development arena change these numbers? One is by continuing to advocate for safe, affordable housing. Rents must be made affordable for individuals and families living in poverty. If not, these people face eviction and maybe even homelessness.
We must continue to advocate for equitable access to healthy, affordable food. With limited resources and a myriad of living expenses, food is a necessity, not a privilege. No one should have to choose between cooking a healthy meal for their children and paying the light bill.
We must prioritize early education. Research shows that providing children with a strong educational foundation at an early age will help lead them down a successful path later in life, thus reducing the probability of living in poverty. Efforts such as Tri-County Cradle-to-Career are focused on improving quality of life through education.
We must continue to collaborate on identifying innovative solutions to reducing poverty in our own communities. South Carolina is home to a vast number of organizations that possess the experience, knowledge, and ability to decrease the prevalence of poverty in our state. Together with these organizations, we work to address the various factors of childhood poverty, including those that have yet to be identified. Through our loan program, we provide capital to build the assets needed to break the cycle of poverty; assets including affordable housing, healthy food retail outlets, community businesses, and community facilities.
For more information on how we’re moving people and places out of poverty, please visit our website.