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Health, education cited as poverty breaker

Resource type: News

The Associated Press State & Local Wire |


Investing up front in early education programs and health care for children would save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the long run and help break the poverty cycle affecting millions of kids, a leading child advocate said Tuesday.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, said it’s one of her group’s goals to end child poverty in this country in “five or six years” and work to dismantle the so-called “cradle-to-prison pipeline” plaguing minorities and the poor.

“The majority of children in poverty live in working families, playing by the rules, (who) cannot earn enough, and we need to make work pay,” Edelman said in an interview before speaking at a summit on the University of Tulsa campus on ways to combat the problem.

Tuesday’s summit is based on a 2007 study by Edelman’s group, which reported that black juveniles were about four times as likely as their white peers to be incarcerated, among other findings.

In Tulsa, 83 percent of kids in the public schools are living at or below the poverty level.

“We need to prevent problems from happening rather than continuing to pay more through the nose after we’ve let them get out of hand,” she said. “And that’s what this cradle-to-prison pipeline is about: change your paradigm into prevention and early intervention, save money, save lives.

“We can’t afford not to do it,” she said.

The cradle-to-prison pipeline is the idea that there are certain obstacles, such as growing up in a single-parent-home or in poverty, that put some children at a greater disadvantage almost from birth.

If left unchecked, a child could end up in a “pipeline” going from elementary school into the juvenile justice system, and from there into the adult prison system.

The defense fund’s 2007 study found that among all children in Oklahoma, two in nine 23 percent were poor.

“We currently spend one and a half times more on putting people in prison than we spend per capita on a kid in public school,” said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor. “We need to reverse that and make sure that every kid has the opportunity to contribute to our community.”

CDF’s 2007 study also found that nationally:

Minority youth represented 60 percent of committed juveniles, even though they made up just 39 percent of the U.S. juvenile population.

A black boy born in 2001 had a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a black girl had a one in 17 chance, while a Latino boy born at the same time had a one in six chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a Latino girl had a one in 45 chance.

Black children were 50 percent more likely than white children to drop out of school.

Black students were more likely than any other students to be in special education programs for children with mental retardation or emotional disturbance.

Fifty-six percent of black children, 29 percent of Latino children and 21 percent of white children lived in a single-parent household.

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