September 15, 2011
AFT President Says Grim Poverty Figures Illustrate Need
For Jobs Bill and Schools With Services to Help Students and Families
WASHINGTON—There are tens of millions of human faces behind this week's grim U.S. Census Bureau report on poverty in America, demonstrating the urgent need to help these families by creating jobs and maintaining stable schools that have wraparound services to address their unmet needs, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said today.
Economists analyzing the report said that unemployment was the main factor responsible for the increase of 2.6 million more Americans living in poverty. Weingarten said the impact of lingering high joblessness, especially long-term unemployment, illustrates the need for quick congressional action on the jobs plan President Obama proposed last week. "The president is wisely calling for investment in jobs and programs that will rebuild our nation as well as ensure that students will have the teachers they need and fewer rundown schools," Weingarten said.
The Census Bureau said a total of 46.2 million Americans were in poverty in 2010—the highest number since the bureau began publishing poverty rate figures 52 years ago. Overall, 15.1 percent of Americans were living below the official poverty line in 2010 ($22,314 for a family of four). The impact on children is even worse, Weingarten said, noting that 16.4 million children, or 22 percent, live in poverty—the highest number since 1993.
"Current political rhetoric and policy decisions by some governors and other political officials can't mask the reality. We can't pretend that poverty and its terrible consequences don't exist," Weingarten said. "Now more than ever we have to face up and deal with the factors both inside and outside schools that affect disadvantaged children and their families."
Wraparound services provided in schools by public agencies, community groups and nonprofit organizations are helping to address unmet needs in many places. After-school academic programs; recreational opportunities; health, dental and social services; housing counseling and information; job banks; and GED and training programs for parents all help eliminate the barriers to success for students and entire communities.
"Some critics like to say that these unacceptable poverty figures are just excuses for problems in our schools. These are not excuses—these are facts," Weingarten said, "and we have to be honest about that and deal with them."
AFT members are partners in community school programs with these types of services in Charleston, W.Va., Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; St. Paul, Minn. and many other places across the country. "With parents struggling to find jobs and overcome economic hardship," Weingarten said, "schools can be a source of stability for families and communities—and a place where students and their parents can get the services they need to have a chance at success."
Across America, nearly two-thirds of school staff report they regularly see kids who are having trouble in school because of hunger, according to Share Our Strength, an organization with which the AFT has worked to respond to childhood food insecurity. Studies show that hungry children cannot grow, develop or learn like other kids.
The Census Bureau also reported that the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 900,000 last year, to a total of 49.9 million. The growth in the uninsured is another reason why wraparound services at community schools are so important now, Weingarten said.
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The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.