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California’s Weak Spot: Child Poverty

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Art by Femi Henry-Chia

California boasts a strong economy. With an average real GDP of $2.9 trillion and a firm grasp on 15% of the United States’s economy, it could very well seem that our Golden State has everything in control. However, like all situations, it’s not the whole picture. California still struggles to manage its high rates of child poverty. And here in Los Angeles, about 80% of students in the Los Angeles School District live at or below the poverty line.

What is the Poverty Line?

The poverty line is an annually updated threshold controlled by the Census Bureau mainly used for statistical purposes. Also known as “poverty thresholds” or the “poverty limit”, poverty lines are the original version of the federal poverty measure. According to the Census Bureau, it is the “minimum level of resources that are adequate to meet basic needs.” Currently, in the United States, the poverty threshold for a family of four is $26,500.

Compared to the rest of the United States, California’s poverty percentage is relatively better than most states. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, minimum wage must be increased yearly, a statement effective since January 1, 2017. During the year 2017, the minimum wage was $10 per hour for employers with 25 employees or less and $10.50 for employers with 26 employees or more. Currently, the minimum wage for employers with 25 employees or less is $12 per hour and for employers with 26 employees or more, $14, a stark difference from the current $7.25 federal minimum wage. By 2023, California aims to reach a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Although California’s minimum wage is higher than the national minimum wage, that should be no reason for avoiding the dilemma. Furthermore, California, especially Los Angeles, is notorious for its absurd housing costs and the state’s poverty statistics still contain alarming numbers.

Poverty and School Life

Photograph by Thomas Park

Poverty in LAUSD has been a problem the district has been trying to fix for years. Our current situation of living through a pandemic and the recent year-and-a-half of online learning has done nothing to help. Nonetheless, LAUSD has tried its best to help these students with programs like Grab & Go Food Centers, free laptops, and internet hot spots. But child poverty is a predicament difficult to settle. Creating wider awareness, providing adequate resources, and making executive policy improvements are a few things that we need to achieve to adequately help students and their families.

School readiness is a reflection of the student’s environment. An environment ridden with worries about rent, food, and a place to live is detrimental to the academic and social success of a child, or in Eagle Rock’s case, adolescents. According to the Pediatrics and Child Health article The impact of poverty on educational outcomes for children, a child's home life, in particular, has a large impact on school readiness. Here at Eagle Rock Jr. Sr. High School, 54% or over 1,000 of our students are “low-income,” providing our school with Title 1 Funding- the funding that provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or percentages of students from “low-income” families. According to the U.S. Department of Education, these funds are used to “ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.”

Mrs. Busch, the Pupil Service and Attendance Counselor at ERHS described to me how important attendance is for school, as well as a signal of who to check upon. “I work with students that have barriers or [are] having attendance issues,” Mrs. Busch says, “because it’s usually a sign of something else happening. It could be depression, or poverty, so many different things.” This is Mrs. Busch’s first full-time year at Eagle Rock, as she’s switched between different schools in the years previous, “it makes a huge difference,” she tells me.