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More of America’s Kids Living in Poverty; Children Under 3 Suffer Most

March 21, 2013
Contact: Matthew Lewis


More of America’s Kids Living in Poverty;

Children Under 3 Suffer Most

 Too Small to Fail Releases Video on Collapse of the Middle Class

"This is a national emergency." - Van Jones, Rebuild the Dream


San Francisco, CA – The number of children living in poverty in the United States has reached its highest level in 40 years, since before President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” – a fact which threatens to de-couple students’ academic achievement from the prospects of improved economic outcomes, according to Too Small to Fail, a national campaign focused on making America’s kids a top national priority. 

“These findings should alarm anyone concerned about our nation’s health and economic prospects,” said Ann O’Leary, Director of the Children and Families Program at Next Generation, which leads Too Small to Fail. “We know there’s a strong link between poverty and poor health and educational outcomes. We need our national leaders to do something about it.”

According to Too Small to Fail, 1 in 5 kids – more than 16 million - live in poverty nationwide. The rate climbs to 1 in 3 among children under the age of three. Currently, nearly half of children born into poverty (42%) remain in the bottom 20% of income earners and the majority (65%) remains in the bottom 40%. In addition, top-performing students from high-income families are over two-and-a-half times (2.5x) more likely to graduate college than their counter-parts in low-income families.

“Today, a child’s zip code and family income are better gauges of his or her future prospects than performance in school,” said O’Leary, citing data from the U.S. Department of Education that shows students from high-income families who performed poorly on tests were more likely to complete college than top students from low-income families. “When performance can’t get you ahead in America, we have a serious problem.”

To show how poverty threatens future economic achievement, Too Small to Fail released a video profiling one family’s struggle to stay out of poverty. “We are living from paycheck to paycheck,” said Blanca, a mother featured in the video, who explains that her husband makes less than he did a decade ago and she now works three clerical jobs to help make ends meet. Despite working hard, the family cannot afford the extra supervision and tutoring needed by their autistic son, James.

“Financial instability leads to all other kinds of instabilities, especially for a child,” said Van Jones, President of Rebuild the Dream, who is also featured in the video. “It’s not about one family, it’s about our country. The fastest way to go from a first-rate country to being a third-rate country is to skip a generation of investment.”

According to Jones, 20 million people in the U.S. who used to be in the middle class have fallen out of the middle class. “America is actually richer than ever … but the middle class is getting less and our children are getting the short end of the stick,” said Jones.

As one example, student loan debt in the United States has nearly tripled over the past eight years, now exceeding one trillion dollars – more than Americans’ credit card debt - according to the Federal Reserve. Student debt and default rates are hindering future employment and home ownership, trends that could have alarming effects on the nation’s economy.

“Americans have a long history of being able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” said Matt James, President and Co-founder of Next Generation and creator of Too Small to Fail. “But young people’s ability to ‘make it’ has been jeopardized by a perfect storm of educational, employment, and economic trends. We need to change that.”

Too Small to Fail ( is a non-partisan campaign working to promote personal, private sector, and public policy solutions to improve the health, education, and welfare of young people. To this end, Too Small to Fail is mobilizing support for a minimum wage increase, universal preschool, family friendly work environments, and greater investment in public education.

Developed by Next Generation, Too Small to Fail is supported by the TomKat Charitable Trust, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The growing list of national partner organizations includes the Children’s Defense Fund, Children’s Health Fund, Every Child Matters, Families and Work Institute, First Focus, MomsRising, Opportunity Nation, Save the Children, and Voices for America’s Children.



Next Generation promotes solutions to two of the biggest challenges confronting the next generation of Americans:  The risk of dangerous climate change, and the threat of diminished prospects for children and families. Through the use of non-partisan research, policy development, and strategic communications, we identify strategies that help deploy clean, advanced energy technologies; we also work to ensure a level playing field from which today’s kids can build a brighter future.

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