Much has been written and spoken within the past several months about the great challenges presented to our community about the decline of the middle class, the working poor and the pervasive poverty that surrounds us.
While unemployment is down, more and more workers have difficulty finding a job that pays a living wage. The number of working poor in our community continues to grow.
Children are the most vulnerable and make up the highest segment of our population living in poverty. One in four children live in poverty, based on the Federal Poverty Line Guidelines. About 45 percent of students in Steuben County are eligible for free or reduced meals at school. Fifty percent of all SNAP (food stamps) participants are children.
Most children living in poverty have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave those families struggling to make ends meet. The low wages paid by businesses are costing American taxpayers nearly $153 billion a year to pay for public-assistance programs. In New York State, it is $3.3 billion.
Over 50 percent of the more-than 5,000 families living in poverty in Steuben County are headed by a single parent. Of these households, only 15 percent are headed by a single father in poverty, while 44 percent are headed by a single mother in poverty. Almost half (45 percent) of all households headed by a single mother live at or below the poverty level, a shocking figure created or supported by policy choices-federal child care subsidies have been cut to the point where it is impossible for many single moms to work before their children are in kindergarten. Low-paying jobs and lack of transportation are also major causes of poverty and child poverty.
Poverty can impede a child’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional and behavioral problems. Children in poverty are 33 percent more likely to have developmental delays or learning disabilities than other non-poor children. Poverty can contribute to poor health and poor mental health, and cause children to become more likely to suffer from poverty as an adult.
The National Center for Children in Poverty estimates that a single mom with two children needs an hourly wage of $22 an hour to cover a basic needs budget.
Despite the myths and misconceptions regarding poverty, the vast majority of our friends and neighbors living in poverty are suffering because of circumstances and decisions over which they have no control. The poor in our community are not sponges, leeches, lazy, unwilling to work or undeserving of our help. Granted, there are some who are abusing public assistance, but they are the minority.
Despite well-publicized stories of those who commit fraud for public assistance dollars, the food stamp programs, Medicaid and other programs actually are so well-managed and have such frequent re-enrollment verification requirements that they have lower rates of abuse than comparable programs in private insurance or bank lending. We spend our public assistance funds wisely in the U.S.
Catholic Charities of Steuben embraces the challenge of helping the less fortunate among us, but we need your help. Our eighth annual STEPS (Steps To End Poverty in Steuben) Walk-a-thon was held May 7 in Hornell, May 14 in Bath, and May 21 in Corning. One hundred percent of the funds raised in each location stay in each location and serve children in the surrounding areas. Remember, the greatest responsibility of any community is to care for its children.
To help, please go to our STEPS Walk website, where you can make a donation to the Turning Point location you’d like to support. You also may mail your check made out to “Catholic Charities of Steuben” to Catholic Charities of Steuben, 23 Liberty St., Bath, NY 14810 and designate “Hornell STEPS Walk,” “Bath STEPS Walk” or “Corning STEPS Walk” in the Notes field.
For more information, please call Paula Smith at (607) 968-4107.
Andy Mazzella is on the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Steuben.