As children head back to school, we again see that diverging incomes among families leads to disparate destinies among children, undermining the promise of a great future for the next generation and for our communities. The tragic outcomes of poverty transcend city limits, but a public-private partnership can help break the cycle by giving children opportunity.
About 22 percent of children in the U.S. lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared with 18 percent in 2008, The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 Kids Count Data Book reported. This means nearly one in four children in California lives in poverty. An additional 26 percent of children live in households that are “near poor,” or somewhat above what is often referred to as the poverty line.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Human and Health Service’s official poverty line was $23,624 for a family with two adults and two children. This translates to about half of California’s children being poor or near-poor. Los Angeles also has one of the highest child poverty rates in the state, 28 percent to 32 percent, depending on the age group. Allowing poverty to grow is unacceptable and undermines quality of life for all.
Investing in children
Child poverty costs the U.S. economy $500 billion a year. Conversely, investing in afterschool and summer programs for children and teens is one of the most important strategies to cut poverty. These programs, like the Boys & Girls Clubs, yield $17 in savings for every $1 invested up front, leading to outcomes such as higher high school graduation rates, higher worker productivity and lower rates of violent crime.
In a 2010 study (the latest available) conducted by Jamshid Damooei, Ph.D., of California Lutheran University, it was reported that 93 percent of high school seniors attending a Boys & Girls Club within Los Angeles County passed the California High School Exit Exam, versus 57 percent for their non-Club peers. The total annual wage and salary increase for the Club members is $6,472,252 per year, for a total work-life increase in earnings of $184,933,128.
The greatest proportion of juvenile crime has been found to occur between 3 and 6 p.m. These are the hours that the Boys & Girls Clubs in Santa Monica and throughout Los Angeles are available, acting as a safe haven for students. According to the study, 964 youth are saved from arrest because they’re participating in Club programs. Since the annual cost of juvenile crimes per person in California is $191,017, the total saving per year for the state of California due to the impact of Clubs is $82,863,512.
We need to scale this concept so we can help more poor children beyond Santa Monica, Los Angeles and the Southland.
Partnering for success
By combining the strengths of individuals, foundations and corporations with our expertise in the nonprofit sector, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica has created partnerships that translate to significant impacts on children and their families because the government cannot do it alone. This is a drop in the bucket to help address the poverty that our children face, yet it can lead to an ocean of change for these children and our communities. Our partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is an example of a public and private partnership that works by leveraging resources and maximizing the impact for those children who need us most in the Mar Vista Gardens public housing development, where the average household income is less than $20,000 per year.
In Mar Vista Gardens, a Boys & Girls Club serves 600 youth, including 215 single-mother head of households; these represent 37 percent of the public housing site’s residents. Sixty percent of the total households have one or more adults employed.
We know that providing universal after-school and summer programs for school-age youth provides these adults, and thousands of parents in the county, with a quality, reliable place for their children to thrive. It also enables working adults to work more or steadier hours to bring additional income to the family, as well as to create greater economic opportunity for their children in the long term.
In the CLU study, 44.7 percent of parents stated that they believe the Boys & Girls Clubs within Los Angeles County enabled them to keep their job. The total number of parents who are able to work because of the Clubs is 15,932 in Los Angeles County.
Parents need these jobs to support their families, and communities need to foster job growth to enable the next generation of workers to work. We will advance our community’s fight to eradicate child poverty throughout Los Angeles County by preparing high school graduates to compete in a high-tech economy, equipping youth with the information they need to make smart choices about a higher education, healthy lifestyles and providing character and leadership, but it does take funding.
Working with the support of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica are helping to eradicate child poverty throughout Los Angeles County. And this small example in Mar Vista Gardens can be replicated at additional HACLA locations where we know poverty is abundant. There are 19 total HACLA Public Housing locations with 21,712 residents with an average family income of $18,844.
Together we can tackle poverty head on. By creating sustainable public and private partnerships that create impacts in a measureable way, we will see the results of breaking the cycle of poverty throughout the Los Angeles area and beyond.
Boys & Girls Clubs are nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organizations and rely solely on the generosity of the community to serve thousands of kids every day. For more information, contact Tim Blaylock, CEO, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica at [email protected], (310) 361-8527, or visit www.smbgc.org.
Tim Blaylock is the CEO at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.