This Tuesday, the ever-charismatic senator Cory Booker headlined a TCF event on child poverty, a part seemingly meant for him.
The conference, Inequality Begins at Birth (sponsored by our own Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, the Roosevelt Institute and the Academic Pediatric Association) dug into the pressing and persistent issue of child poverty in America.
Children are the poorest demographic in America. Moreover, the younger, the poorer.
Booker has placed combating child poverty at the top of his legislative priorities. But his isn’t a fight from personal experience. Booker’s father was an IBM executive, and the future senator grew up in a comfortably upper-middle-class home. With a degree from Stanford, Oxford, and Yale, Booker was positioned to accomplish whatever he set his mind to.
So what does Booker really know about childhood poverty?
As it turns out, a lot.
Booker laid out an exchange with his father that opened his eyes to his own privilege. Booker remembered walking around the house with what he termed, “eighteen year-old swagger,” until his father told him: “Boy, don’t you dare forget you were born on third base.”
Booker’s father, raised in a poor, segregated community by his African-American single mom, definitely appreciated the advantages he had given his son. As Booker humorously puts it, his father was born “po’,” because he couldn’t afford the other two letters. Against all odds, the elder Booker was able to overcome his socioeconomic status in order to provide a better life for his children.
Booker’s father’s success in breaking the cycle of poverty is the exception, not the rule.
In most cases, inequality begins at birth. It is this legacy of poverty that keeps poor individuals out of college altogether, stuck in place. In order to combat this cycle, Booker called upon the government to address child poverty from the start.
There was a time when America was the least-bad place to be poor, Booker argued, but in 2014 this is no longer the case.
More than one-fifth of American children live below the federal poverty level and nearly half live in low-income families–-the highest rate in the developed world. It is these kids who have little chance to combat their low socioeconomic status because, unlike children in other Western countries, they lack social support from their federal government.
It’s hard to sum up any better than Booker did yesterday.
“We have work to do.”
Note: We’re just getting started on this topic. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be exploring child poverty in greater detail, and examining solutions to address what we here at TCF believe is the country’s most pressing issue.