WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–At age seven, Jason Tyler knew something was different about his life. His friends wore new tennis shoes and clothes to school. His came from the thrift store. They talked about having games and toys he was scared to even ask his mother about. He knew the answer would be the same whenever he asked for something.

“Boy, I hardly have money to feed you much less buy you something,” his mother would say.

What Jason didn’t know was that he, his two sisters and brother are among the growing numbers of extremely poor Black children, which is at its highest level in 23 years, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.


Nearly one million Black children in 2001 lived in a family with an annual income of less than half the federal poverty level (disposable income below $7,064 for a family of three, including food and housing benefits), the Fund says.

Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman explained that these numbers are clear indicators that, as a country, we must invest in children now instead of passing irresponsible tax breaks for the rich.

“It is shameful that one million Black children are left behind in extreme poverty,” said Ms. Edelman. “It is hard to be poor. It is harder to be an extremely poor Black child in America when our President, who says we should “Leave No Child Behind,” is proposing massive new tax breaks for the richest Amer-icans.”

Kesha Watson doesn’t really understand or care about tax cuts. What she does know is that she doesn’t have enough money to take care of her children.

“I had a job but I got laid off. Now I just work part-time and it’s real hard. I can’t afford day care for my two-year-old. I can’t find a job and it’s getting harder and harder to make it,” she told The Final Call.

Her situation is further complicated by the Bush Administration’s plans to dismantle Head Start and block-grant Medicaid, as well as the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Mr. Bush also wants to slash and/or freeze crucial services designed to help these poorest children.

While research shows that overall poverty has declined among Black children, it fails to highlight the plight or the record-breaking increase of children living in “extreme” poverty. “Poverty adds an additional hurdle for these students to overcome in reaching educational success. Being poor is one thing but being extremely poor makes success increasingly difficult. Something as simple and inexpensive as school supplies becomes an issue. They may come at the beginning of the year but they dwindle as the year progresses,” says Valerie Butler, who teaches at a school in Houston.

“No one wants to be stigmatized as being poor so these children try to compensate for what they lack. They still want the same things that other teens want but it’s just harder for them to get it. They may be poor, but any money they get is used for the things that will normalize their life like Nike tennis shoes and the latest music CDs.”

Children’s Defense Fund’s analysis further shows that safety nets for the worst-off families, such as government assistance, are being eroded by government policies, which cause fewer extremely poor children of all races to receive cash and in-kind assistance that could help.

The Bush administration claims its plan to dismantle, eliminate, cut and freeze essential services for children to pay for massive new tax cuts that opponents claim are for the wealthiest Americans will spur the economy.

The most recent Economic Report of the President, which the President’s own Council of Economic Advisers issued in February 2003, explicitly acknowledges that tax cuts are unlikely to pay for themselves–let alone pay for investments in children and working families.

“I don’t know if tax cuts are the answer, but I do know that if we can go across the globe to liberate Iraq, something needs to be done to liberate me and my children from this poverty,” said Ms. Watson.