Poverty plagues Arkansas children

Arkansas is currently facing two major problems: poverty and hunger. For many families, jobs are not enough to keep either of them away. Families are struggling to afford essentials like safe housing, food and transportation, according to a press release by Arkansas Advocates, entitled “Poverty line wages in Arkansas don’t cut it.”

More than 200,000 Arkansas children are living in poverty, according to Arkansas Advocates. That is almost 30 percent of children in the state. Many of these children are minorities, particularly African-Americans, Latinos or Native Americans.

“Today, as the economy recovers, we see a widening gap between the living standards of many children of color and other kids,” Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said.

Another group of impoverished children in Arkansas are those in foster care.

Arkansas is ranked 13th in the highest percentage of foster children who are not in family settings, according to another press release by Arkansas Advocates, entitled “Too many children in U.S., Arkansas child welfare systems not living in families.”

“It is very important for children to develop secure attachments with families while in foster care. Research shows that by doing so they are better prepared to thrive in a permanent home,” Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said.

Senior, Allyssa Westerfield, expressed her worries about the situation.

“I think people and churches don’t think about the issue of hunger enough,” Westerfield said. “People will use things like soup kitchens, but it’s become more of a hobby for people. It’s something to do on the weekend. People don’t really think about it or want to fix it.”

Though minimum wage was once enough for a hard-working employee to take care of their needs, the cost of living has increase and wages have not caught up yet. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,850, while it actually takes somewhere between $56,051 (Poinsett County) and $59,548 (Hot Springs) to adequately provide for such a family, according to Arkansas Advocates.

However, the Casey Foundation has offered recommendations to help better situations for children and keep them out of poverty. This two-generation strategy will assist children directly while offering tools and resources to their parents. The foundation listed three critical strategies in particular:

“Provide parents with multiple pathways to get family-supporting jobs and achieve financial stability. Ensure access to high-quality early childhood education and enriching elementary school experiences. Equip parents to better support their children socially and emotionally to advocate for their kids’ education.”

This plan does not specifically mention raising minimum wage, but the foundation supports policies that promote higher pay and more benefits.

Senior, Alex King, expressed problems with raising minimum wage. “I don’t think our wages are enough to live on, but just raising minimum wage isn’t enough either,” she said. “Just raising minimum wage will raise the cost of living too.”