It's a tough time for children in Jackson, and in Mississippi overall. Truthfully, at least when it comes to poor children, the state has never been especially kind or helpful to them.
Right now, the news is about as bad as it has been, though. Recent U.S. Census Bureau data show that Mississippi is bucking the trend of poverty falling around the country—in fact, our child poverty has gone up. A full one-third of our kids exist beneath the poverty line.
That means that they do not have the same access to secure housing, opportunities, healthy food, transportation, quality education and safe neighborhoods that wealthier families and communities enjoy. They cannot afford the same afterschool and summer arts and sports programs that their well-to-do counterparts can. They cannot escape dangerous neighborhoods where cycles of hopelessness and bad policing strategies make them more likely to become criminals at some point themselves.
The deck is stacked against them.
Now, though, programs that can help them clear hurdles and actually find bootstraps to pull up on are in trouble—through mismanagement, the greed of elected officials who value tax cuts for the rich over opportunities for the poor, and the lack of attention to detail and strategy that could help the Mississippians who need it the most.
The State of Mississippi mismanaged federal money that has results in massive cuts to afterschool programs that help young people overcome circumstances and keep them busy in the most crime-prone time of day for minors. That means that proven programs such as Operation Shoestring are in trouble—hurting kids and causing job loss and income loss for the good people running them.
Due to the misuse of federal funds, adolescent opportunity programs have closed or are now scrambling to find the funding to continue. AOPs and after-school programs are critical, not just to keep kids in school and out of the juvenile-justice system but also to encourage the next generation of Mississippians to chase their dreams, get an education, find jobs and build the future of the state.
Here in Jackson, we just learned that the Greater Jackson Arts Council's city money was cut without notice. If you've ever seen the number of children wandering in and out of the arts center, you know how vital that organization is to our youth. As the city scrambles to cut its budget in the 11th hour, we're left wondering what the city administration has done with its time rather than prioritizing the lives of our most vulnerable.
We want to see both state and city officials get their acts together on behalf of children, to stop political posturing and napkin-doodling, and to start looking ahead, seeking out grants and evidence-based practices, finding ways to help kids toward greatness and away from crime.
Enough ego games; it's time for action.