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A Staggering Fact on Childhood Poverty

The New York Times reported earlier this month that childhood poverty in the United States has fallen an astonishing 59 percent since 1993. In California, the figures are even more dramatic: a 61 percent drop since 1993, with extreme poverty falling by more than 70 percent. At the 21st Century Alliance, the issues we care about – housing supply, K-12 student outcomes, and the jobs climate – are critical to further reducing poverty in California. High housing costs are a massive burden on low-income Californians. A good education and a good job are the surest paths to ending the cycle of poverty. As we seek to further bend the curve on poverty in California, we look to best practices from around the world. The dramatic progress in childhood poverty in recent decades offers some important lessons:

  • Government matters: The right public policy, focusing on the long-term interests of the state rather than special interests, will be critical to solving our problems in housing, education, and jobs climate, just as it has been in fighting poverty.

  • No party has a monopoly on good ideas: Much of the decrease in child poverty was driven by social safety net programs championed by progressives. But the safety net was not the whole story: Poor single mothers were more able to find and keep jobs following the 1996 welfare reform than many critics anticipated.

  • Accountability is critical: We know our nation’s melange of anti-poverty programs has worked because we have a metric to track. Measurable goals allow us to steward public dollars wisely, course correct when needed and eliminate programs that don’t work.

  • Big thinking is essential: In 1993, the idea of reducing childhood poverty by 60 percent would have sounded quixotic. But big thinking, combined with basic accountability, are exactly what we need in California.

At the 21st Century Alliance, we’re thinking big. Our goals are to cut California’s 3.5M housing gap in half and raise our student test scores from the bottom quartile to the top, by 2035–all without raising taxes, as we already have the largest state budget in the country. Come 2035, there’s nowhere to hide. That is as it should be.

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