One in Four Children Live in Poverty
One in four children now live in poverty in Southern California.
That sobering statistic underlines the daunting challenge faced by community and elected leaders, non-profit organizations, businesses, educators -- anyone with an interest in improving the quality of life in our region.
In simplest terms, poverty is a problem that is not going away on its own. Fixing it is an urgent priority requiring collaboration unlike anything we've seen at the local, regional and state level.
According to a study conducted by regional economists and sponsored by the Southern California Association of Governments, 3.2 million residents in the six-county SCAG region live in poverty, up from 1.9 million in 1990. Overall, the share of SCAG-region residents living in poverty is now 18 percent, including 25 percent of all children.
The problem is even more pronounced in San Bernardino County, where 20.4 percent of the overall population lives in poverty – up from 12.7 percent in 1990 and second highest among the six counties behind only Imperial (23.2 percent). Among children, the poverty rate in San Bernardino County is 28.3 percent – again, second highest in the region behind only Imperial County (32.8 percent).
More troubling is that these numbers might, in fact, understate the problem. They're based on U.S. Census Bureau data, which compares income to a minimum threshold of basic living needs and does not factor in the relatively high cost of living in Southern California.
So how do we begin to fix it?
Again, commitment and collaboration.
Organizations such as the Children's Fund play a major role in raising awareness and money, but they cannot do it alone. We're all stakeholders, and have a responsibility to do what we can to close the poverty gap.
It's not about handouts, either. The cost of poverty is borne by entire communities. Therefore, too, the benefits of moving people from dependency to self sufficiency are profound – uplifting the economy, increasing the tax base to fund essential services and needed infrastructure improvements, and transforming neighborhoods and cities.
One place to start, the SCAG economists’ report suggests, is in the area of educational attainment. Poverty rates for working residents without a high school diploma are 60 percent higher than for those with a diploma. Here too, San Bernardino County faces the biggest uphill climb, ranking second lowest within the six-county SCAG region in terms of percentage of population without a high school diploma (48 percent).
This affects not only the ability to get a job, but eventual earning power as well. Industry segments that attract a greater percentage of employees with at least some college education are the highest paying, and yet, comparing percentage of the population in the SCAG region with bachelor’s degrees or higher (29 percent) to that of the Bay Area (43 percent) shows just how far we lag as a region.
Again, the solution is a collaborative one: Education and economic policies that give much more attention to job creation and economic advancement for our most vulnerable families. One example is the California Career Pathways Trust, designed to connect businesses, K-12 schools and community colleges in a way that better prepares students for the 21st century workplace. Local education agencies – school districts, county offices of education, charter schools and community college districts – are eligible for funding under the program to create robust regional partnerships with employers.
At SCAG’s annual Economic Summit in December, the Career Pathways Trust was singled out by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg as a golden opportunity.
For the one in four children in our region living in poverty, it’s one we can’t afford to pass up.
-- Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director of Southern California Association of Governments
Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director of Southern California Association of Governments
Hasan Ikhrata is executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, the largest metropolitan planning organization in the United States. Under Ikhrata’s direction, SCAG has become a leading voice on job creation, economic development and collaborative solutions to the region’s poverty problem.
Born in Jordan, Ikhrata holds a bachelor and master’s degree in civil and industrial engineering from Zaporozhye University in the former Soviet Union, a master’s degree in civil engineering from UCLA and a PhD candidacy in urban planning and transportation from USC.