“A place at the table isn’t the goal—it’s a prerequisite to the goal,” said Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs, during a keynote address at an event sponsored by the Half in Ten campaign, the National Council of La Raza, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund this week on improving the economic well-being of Latino children.
Muñoz was referring to advocacy organizations’ concerted efforts to bring Latinos’ concerns to bear in forming and modifying public policy. One of these concerns—and a big one—is that more than one in five children in the United States, and approximately one in three Latino children, lived in poverty last year. A policy brief released at the event provided background on Latino child poverty, including demographic information, state-by-state differences in the data, and policy solutions to reduce poverty and close racial and ethnic disparities.
Clearly, our country cannot fully address child poverty without considering the particular challenges Latino families face. A large and growing proportion of children in the United States are Latino and 92 percent of them are U.S. citizens.
Muñoz argued that even though much has been done to address Latino child poverty, successful programs and policies need to be extended or expanded to ensure the well-being of Latino children going forward.
She noted that many current programs—namely, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps; the Child Tax Credit, or CTC; and the American Opportunity Tax Credit—are all vital tools in combating poverty in general and poverty among Latino families and children specifically. She also stressed the importance of job creation, accessible health care, and education to alleviate child poverty.
Muñoz pointed out that at least 100,000 jobs are at risk as a result of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, or TANF ECF’s expiration. She reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to this important job-creation engine. Muñoz also drew from her experience working with state and local governments and emphasized the need for federal, state, and local governments and advocacy organizations to work together to address this critical issue.
Following Muñoz’s remarks a panel of experts discussed child poverty statistics and further elaborated on the policy changes needed to deal with child poverty. Patricia Foxen, associate director of research for the National Council of La Raza, kicked off by presenting NCLR’s 2008 Latino children’s databook. She highlighted that Latino child poverty has increased from 30.6 percent in 2008 to 33.1 percent in 2009. This makes the 2009 figure the highest since 1997. She also noted that 59 percent of Latino children live below 200 percent of the poverty line.
Moreover, a high concentration of Latino children live in low-wage households, lack adequate access to the social safety net, and face cultural and linguistic barriers that exacerbate these problems even further.
A panel discussion followed Foxen’s presentation. Representatives of NCLR, Mary’s Center, and the Half in Ten campaign participated. Maria Gomez, the president and CEO of Mary’s Center, a local service agency in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, elaborated on some of the best practices needed to combat these trends. Gomez stressed the importance of fostering communities capable of lifting children out of poverty through supportive services like quality day care centers, school lunch and breakfast programs, and a strong public education system.
Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, emphasized that policies are needed that target low-income, mixed status, Latino families. Rodriguez also remarked that lifting the five-year bar for legally present immigrants to receive public benefits and implementing health care reform are necessary steps to reducing Latino child poverty.
Finally, Melissa Boteach, Manager of the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, discussed Half in Ten’s work, highlights from the 2009 poverty data, successful federal programs, and recommendations to improve antipoverty policies. Boteach emphasized the need to extend the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, extend unemployment benefits, and increase the number of eligible people enrolled in SNAP/food stamps.
Latino children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. Investing in their education and well-being, therefore, is investing in America’s future.