The United States currently runs several distinct programs to provide basic nutrition to children (and seniors) who live below the federal poverty line. The catch? The federal poverty line is useless in much of the country for determining whether someone lives in poverty, given the vast differences in the cost of living between California and, say, Mississippi. Indexing all these programs to basic measures of the local cost of living, using a county-by-county metric instead of a state-wide or national one, would greatly reduce the rampant malnutrition and poverty afflicting too many in the United States. It is a sad fact that we are number two in the developed world for childhood poverty, and near the top in senior poverty, and in the richest country in history this makes no sense.
But it’s not just a moral concern. The evidence is overwhelming that children with proper levels of nutrition are better able to focus and learn, and are more likely to succeed in school. By leaving too many people malnourished we are reproducing generational poverty, condemning people to poorer outcomes and harming the entire society and economy. The relatively small cost to provide basic nutrition is easily off-set by the greater earning potential of those who benefit from it, making it a sensible investment in the country as a whole. Opposing it, as many Republicans do, means that not only are they happy to condemn children to malnutrition and disease for no fault of their own, only their parents’ relative poverty, but that they want the living standards for Americans as a whole to drop, and I can’t help but wonder at that.
Photo by Ishikawa Ken via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)