Monday, August 22, 2011

1 in 4 California Families Cannot Afford Adequate Food for Kids

One in Four California Families Can't Afford Food for Their Kids
by Raul Rodriguez

"One in four California households with children reported food hardship, according to a new analysis of Gallup data released last Thursday by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

“It’s disturbing, but not surprising,” said Kelly Hardy, director of health policy at Children Now.

The report analyzed data gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project’s responses to the question: “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

“It sends a clear signal of economic distress, particularly for families with children,” noted James Weill, president of FRAC. “The answers to the question reveal there are times that these families are going without eating a meal, or the parents are skipping a meal for their children, or children are skipping meals.”

California had the second highest number of metropolitan areas with rates of food hardship in households with children in 2009-2010, according to the report.

MAJIA HERE: I'm going to paste an excerpt from an essay I recently wrote about children and the great recession. I cannot turn off the italics for some reason. The text in italics should not be in italics.

Prior to the recession approximately 40% of children lived in or near poverty level (Federal, 2007). More recent data are not yet available, but skyrocketing levels of home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, and homelessness suggest that (at least) another 10 to 20 percent of children are now living on the economic edge.

Indeed, as of May, 2011 44.2 million Americans were receiving food stamps (Brewer, 2001), whereas in June of 2009 that number figured at 35 million Americans (Jackson, 2009). Demand for free and reduced price school lunches rose 12% from early 2008 to early 2009 (Kvaal & Furnas, 2009). Mark R. Rank published a study concluding “half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent” (cited in DaParle & Gebeloff, 2009).

Katie Couric reported in May of 2009 that 1 in 50 children is homeless and that homelessness is rising with increased foreclosures (Couric, 2009). The Washington Post reports, “Downturn Dims Young Dreams: Children Worry about How Their Families Will Make Ends Meet” (St. George, 2009). The article describes children and teens anxious about their home and parents, as illustrated in the example by Edgar Guitierrez:

Edgar Gutierrez, 17, said his worries began after his mother was laid off and their car repossessed. Now he has trouble concentrating, and his grades are down at Gaithersburg High School. "I think, 'I need to get a job, I need to be helping my parents out,' " he said.

With unemployment for teens and young adults exceeding 50%, it seems improbable that Edgar will be able to find the work necessary for helping his mother cope with unemployment and dispossession. Another young man, Miguel Aleman, describes the erosion of his dream of attending college, commenting that he will now probably have to join the military first to earn money for tuition.

Facing the nightmare conditions for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan becomes the precondition for so many young people seeking to escape poverty.

Finally, within the same Washington Post article, Freddy Sanchez describes his eighth grade daughter’s complaints about their empty fridge, bare of meat, fruit, vegetables and butter (St. George, 2009). Many of the families described were working class, but not all. Some parents had held professional positions until layoffs destroyed their livelihoods.

The Center for American Progress issued a report titled, “Recession, Poverty, and the Recovery Act: Millions at Risk of Falling Out of the Middle Class” in February 2009 (Kvaal & Furnas, 2009). The report cites rising unemployment, loss of health insurance, and growing poverty before concluding, “Our economy is in a perilous state. Millions of middle-class families are likely to fall into poverty if Congress does not take swift action.”

The Recovery Act promoted by the report fell short of delivering adequate relief and job growth to an increasingly fragile middle-class and an increasingly desperate working class by November of 2009 (Hilsenrath & Leo, 2009). As of the spring of 2011, nearly all measure of economic well-being, including employment, personal income from employment, retirement savings, and health insurance, remain at pre-recession lows (see Reich, 2011; Schwenninger & Sherraden, 2011).

The role of education as a social leveler is quickly eroding in the context of this recession. Most public school funds derive from property taxes. Today’s property taxes reflect the inflated housing values of the real-estate bubble, the collapse of which precipitated the recession. As property valuations are adjusted downward over the next several years, schools will face significant declines in revenue.

The National Conference of State Legislatures predicts that schools funding will, metaphorically, drop “off a cliff” when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., the stimulus) funds expire (see Shreve, 2009). Even the socially and economically conservative Forbes magazine observes:

Unless major changes are made, or taxes raised sky-high, spending on baby-boomer retirements (Social Security, health care, public employee pensions, etc.) will eat up almost every morsel of discretionary funding that could otherwise go to services like schools. (Finn & Petrilli, 2009)

Out of necessity, schools will raise class sizes and cut “elective” programs such as art, music, and physical education. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported that 75% of California’s elementary schools will increase class size in 2010 (Tuna, 2010). Likewise, Georgia school districts are facing $700 million in cuts, leading state lawmakers to consider temporarily waiving state-mandated class-size limits.

Lifting limits on class-sizes mean more crowded classrooms and fewer teachers (Tuna, 2010). Lower-income children will be disproportionately impacted by increased class sizes since these children are more likely to begin school unprepared, as compared to their higher-income peers.

Consequently, education’s capacity to equalize opportunity in a technocratic society will be further compromised by massive funding cuts. Affluent populations will pull their children out of the crowded classrooms of public school in favor of the smaller class-sizes of private, tuition-driven academies.

Upper middle-class parents may also opt out of the public schools for charter schools, which compete with public schools for public dollars but operate with fewer regulatory constraints and oversights. The comparatively unregulated charter school movement has used public dollars to create racially and economically segmented schools that offer few spaces for kids with special needs, as recently documented in the UCLA Charter School Study (see Wells, et al., 2010; see also Nadesan, 2008b).

Support for school bonds and property tax increases that support traditional, local, public education will wane as affluent populations disinvest from public infrastructures. Lower-income children will become even more permanently trapped into economically marginal jobs as they fail to achieve the highly technical and demanding educational curriculum required of many of today’s future professional and managerial workers.

The children of the plutonomy have little formal value within neoliberal calculi beyond their capacity to produce or consume. Denied these capacities by a financial crisis that imperils the middle-class and impoverishes the working class, the majority of the children of the plutonomy figure most prominently in relation to the purported security risks they pose to the nation. Under-insured children, high-school drop-outs, juvenile delinquents, future welfare recipients--these are the children who threaten the neoliberal plutonomy.

The perception of risky children fostered by elite interests is producing what Henry Giroux (2008) has described as a biopolitics of disposability. This biopolitics replaces a pastoral social-welfare biopolitics with an authoritarian nexus of surveillance, suppression, and exclusion (Giroux, 2003; Nadesan, 2010).

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