How Can America’s Wealthy Sleep at Night When Some Teens Must Sell Sex or Drugs in Order to Eat?
A harrowing new study sheds light on the extreme measures some U.S. children between the ages of 13 and 18 are taking in order to feed themselves and calls Bill Clinton’s welfare policies into question.
Detailing responses from teens across the country, research by the Washington-based Urban Institute reveals that 20 years after the two-term Democratic president supposedly reformed welfare, youths in some food-insecure households have to sell drugs, join gangs or engage in sex with older men in order not to starve.
From The Guardian:
The qualitative study, carried out in partnership with the food banks network Feeding America, created two focus groups – one male, one female – in each of 10 poor communities across the US. The locations included big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington and rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon. A total of 193 participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous.
Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers – often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five – missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences. … In every community, and in 13 of the 20 focus groups, there were accounts of sexual exploitation, often related with distaste. A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”
The findings raise questions over the legacy of Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare-reform legislation 20 years ago as well as the spending priorities of Congress and the impact of slow wage growth. Evidence of teenage girls turning to “transactional dating” with older men is likely to cause particular alarm. … The report is not an attempt to provide national statistics but does cite research that estimates 6.8 million individuals aged 10 to 17 are in food-insecure households, including 2.9 million with very low food security.
The Urban Institute’s recommendations include improving the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; expanding access to school-based meals for teens in summer months and after classes; creating more and better youth job opportunities; establishing community projects, such as one that has proved successful in Portland; and helping rather than punishing girls who are sexually exploited. … “One of the policy changes we advocate for in the report is a real shift in the perspective and getting kids help and support instead of a criminal record[,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices.]
One has to wonder what this country stands for when we can’t even protect our children from having to turn to vice in order to eat.
— Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata
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