According to the Indianapolis Star, the improving state economy touted by Gov. Mike Pence at campaign stops “has yet to trickle down to the 345,000 Hoosier children, or more than 1 in 5, living in poverty.”
In a recent editorial, the Anderson Herald Bulletin urged lawmakers to deal with the reality of Indiana’s working poor.
The Herald Bulletin has reported extensively this year on a group labeled Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) in a study released in 2014 by the Indiana Association of United Ways.
About 23 percent of Indiana’s population and about 28 percent of people living in Madison County belong to the ALICE group. While they earn too much income to qualify for most forms of welfare, they earn too little to afford necessities, pay monthly bills and save enough money to handle unexpected expenses such as illnesses and car repairs. Hoosiers who belong to this group find themselves in a spiral of debt toward poverty.
Many belonging to the ALICE group have children and find that paying for child care while they work is often a money-losing proposition. In Indiana, the Child Care Development Fund provides subsidies to help financially insecure families pay for child care.
It’s a great program, but it has a major flaw. A slight rise in income level can cause a family to lose eligibility, providing a disincentive to work hard and earn a raise. If CCDF subsidies were set up on a sliding scale, hard work would be rewarded.
Tweaking the CCDF program with a sliding scale is something we should do. And we should provide adequate resources for the Department of Children’s Services. But important as individual programs may be, the inconvenient truth is that the welfare of Hoosier children is inextricably connected to the welfare of the families that are raising them.
When wage levels are too low to allow those families to provide decent housing, adequate nutrition and reliable child-care, children suffer. Recent research also suggests that the higher stress levels common to low-wage households take a particular toll on the children in those families, who arrive at school unready to learn, and who have poorer health prospects and lower life expectancies.
A policy agenda focused upon keeping Indiana a low-wage state not only fails to create the promised jobs–it hurts children.
Politicians uniformly insist that they care about children, but aside from efforts to ensure that every conception ends in the birth of a child, I haven’t seen much evidence for that concern.