This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization's Valentine's Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more go here.
We all think we know what poverty looks like, but poverty -- which affects 1 in 4 people in this country -- is all around us. It can strike anywhere and can be seen in the faces of our neighbors, our friends, our family, and particularly, our children.
The rate of poverty among this country's children is startling. While children make up 24 percent of this country's population, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2010 children made up 36 percent of this country's poor. That means there are 16.4 million children living in poverty. To put this in perspective, there are 3 million more children living in poverty than make up the total population of the state of Illinois.
These aren't just numbers, these are real faces. They may come from different backgrounds and ethnicities and may live in different cities across this country, but what they all have in common is that each one is the future of this country and it is our moral responsibility to give these children a chance.
We need to collectively re-imagine the way that America addresses poverty and develop stronger, sustainable strategies to reduce poverty. It is not as simple as just providing a hungry child a meal before school. Nor is it the sole responsibility of one's neighbors, teachers, or families to help. In order to make real change, the responsibility must fall on every one of us to identify solutions that create opportunities that lay the groundwork to help these children lead a life of prosperity so they aren't forced to repeat the cycle.
Decreasing the poverty rate in this country or making a dent in this problem should not be a measure of success. We need to take a stand and say "enough is enough" and work together to eradicate poverty in America. This means that we have to do more than provide children access to good education or after-school programs. While these are each important pieces of the puzzle, real change will only come from looking at the entire puzzle and identifying innovative programs and services that provide support to the entire family.
Life would be so much easier if it were enough to just hand out a warm meal or provide a warm bed, but after being touched by so many heartbreaking stories of the innocent children and families in need, the issue of poverty in this country is not one any of us should walk away from. This is an opportunity for all of us to bring the best of who we are -- our collective creativity, our compassion, and our energy - to identify solutions that can improve the lives of so many in our country who have been pushed to the corners of society, voice muffled and discounted.
It is time for innovation, a bold plan of action that will create a path of hope and opportunity for those currently living in poverty. Looking at these daunting rates of poverty in this country, it is clear that the status quo is not working. It simply is not enough to help people sustain, we should be helping people thrive.
Catholic Charities has served the poor and vulnerable for the past 100 years and will continue that service well into the future. But given the challenges facing our nation, it is not enough for Catholic Charities to remain resolute; nor is it enough for the entire nonprofit community to unite to tackle these seemingly daunting challenges facing our nation. Only when we effectively engage government, the private sector and individuals across the country in the moral responsibility associated with developing pathways for opportunity for every child in this country will we find success. Catholic Charities remains firmly committed to the goal we set in 2007 to reduce poverty in the United States by 50 percent by the year 2020 and anxiously look forward to growing partnerships to ensure this comes to fruition.