Davis Opening Statement at Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Hearing on Combatting Child Poverty
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you to the Ranking Member and the members of the Subcommittee for joining me today to hold a hearing on Combatting Child Poverty in America. And thank you also to the Ranking Member for her flexibility as we work around travel restrictions for our witnesses due to COVID-19.
The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth, and yet more than 10 million children live in poverty. Millions more families live on the knife’s edge where one illness, one car repair, one lost job is all it would take to tip them into poverty, too. The injustice of high child poverty rates in our nation is magnified by the tremendous suffering poverty inflicts on our youth, families, communities, and nation and by the reality that a disproportionate number of poor children are African American or part of other communities of color.
I see this injustice every day in my Congressional district on the West Side of Chicago. Nearly half of the young black men in Chicago are neither working nor in school. If we look backward, we see some of the roots of the ways we failed them. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 54 percent of 4th grade African-American boys cannot read at a “basic” level. And African-American children are three times less likely to receive mental health services when they act out at school, and are four times more likely to be suspended.
But where the injustice is the worst, we also see heroes – community leaders from all sectors who have come together to address poverty at its root, rather than pretending that social services agencies created this problem or can solve it on their own. In my Congressional district, I am proud to work with West Side United - a collaborative of six Chicago health care institutions that realized that to truly improve the health of the communities they served, they would need to address poverty and other social determinants of health.
I had planned to have Ayesha Jaco, the Executive Director of West Side United, testify at our hearing today. Unfortunately, travel restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak have prevented her from being here, so I hope the Ranking Member will understand if I take a few extra minutes to read a few key paragraphs of the testimony Ms. Jaco submitted in writing.
“In June 2016, Rush University Medical Center, an academic medical center located about three miles west of the loop (Chicago’s downtown), changed its mission from providing the best in health care to improving health. The board was shown a map of life expectancy down the Chicago CTA blue line. The map shows stark life expectancy gaps between the Loop and the Westside. Residents of Chicago’s loop had a life expectancy mirroring Japan of 85 years. But if you rode the train seven stops down the blue line, life expectancy in the Garfield Park community plummeted to under 69 years. The last time in life expectancy was under 69 according to US history was in 1950. Seven stops on a train ride, less than 7 miles from Chicago’s loop indicates almost 7 decades of life expectancy loss.
"Dr. David Ansell, Rush’s Chief Health Equity Officer, explained to the Rush board that while many people might think that gun violence was responsible for the death gap, it’s not just violence that is the root cause. It’s heart disease, cancer and infant mortality that’s responsible for more than 60% of the premature deaths in these neighborhoods. At the root of these poor health is structural racism, concentrated poverty, lack of good paying jobs, poor educational outcomes, and poor childhood health.. . And when adults die young, children are often plunged into intractable poverty. These death gaps are urgent, unnatural and unjust not just for those who die prematurely but for their families, their children.”
Ms. Jaco goes on to explain that Rush Hospital took action and recruited five other health systems to join them. The collaborative committed to providing career pathways for residents, so that they could hire locally and help community members get into good-paying health professions. They committed to working with small local businesses, so that they could procure supplies locally. They worked with local schools to improve children’s social-emotional learning and provided internships for youth. In short, they are creating real economic opportunity.
Chicago is not the only place leaders are choosing to take on this challenge. In Charlotte, NC, community leaders have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight structural racism using housing and education, and are developing new ways to measure what works, and what doesn’t. At our hearing, we will hear from Ms. Joy Bivens about her work in Franklin County, Ohio, and the multi-sector poverty-fighting efforts in counties across America. In these communities and many others, the heroes did not look away. They did not blame the people who are struggling. They did not minimize their poverty or the harm it did. Instead, they came together to do something about it.
We in the United States Congress should do the same. Last year, experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences looked at a wide array of potential federal policies and the best research on their effects on child poverty. They found dozens of federal policies that have been demonstrated to substantially reduce child poverty – things like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, improving child care affordability through subsidies and tax credits, housing assistance, and child allowances and tax credits. The NAS panel offered two different illustrative packages of policy changes which would have the total effect of cutting child poverty in half within 10 years.
The time for excuses, rationalizations, and debates about how poor people really are is over. The time for leadership on behalf of children and their communities is now. I believe that the first step is for us to set a clear goal of cutting child poverty in half, and the next step is for Congress to work together with researchers, local leaders, and the communities themselves to meet that goal by replacing poverty with economic justice for all.