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In our opinion: Fighting poverty is more than a clear moral imperative; it is also an economic necessity

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 9:16 a.m. MDT

According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, childhood poverty in the United States creates societal costs in health care, lost productivity and increased crime that amount to a staggering half trillion dollars per year.  (Shutterstock.com) According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, childhood poverty in the United States creates societal costs in health care, lost productivity and increased crime that amount to a staggering half trillion dollars per year. (Shutterstock.com)

Poverty, it seems, is very expensive.

According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress, childhood poverty in the United States creates societal costs in health care, lost productivity and increased crime that amount to a staggering half trillion dollars per year.

Reducing such poverty, then, is more than a clear moral imperative; it is also an economic necessity.

Research by the Brookings Institute has determined that poverty can be avoided when a person simply earns a high school diploma, gets a full-time job and waits to have children until they are married.

Statistically speaking, those who meet all three of these criteria have only a 2 percent chance of living in poverty, and, at the same time, have a 74 percent chance of entering the middle class. But starting out life in poverty makes achieving those standards far less likely. Indeed, children born poor are 90 percent more likely to drop out of school than children who have never known poverty.

Far too many of our fellow citizens are born into circumstances where poverty has been the standard of living for generations, and their number is growing. The Urban Institute has determined that one in six newborns in this country is born poor. A third of those are born into what the Urban Institute labels "deep poverty," defined as half of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $9,545 for a family of three.

This is especially problematic among minorities. Nearly half of all poor black newborns live in deep poverty.

We can't turn a blind eye to this. Indeed, we have a duty to help wherever and however we can. And it's not enough just to expect government programs to fix this for us.

Government certainly has a role to play, and the societal safety net serves a vital function in the fight against poverty. But public money is a poor substitute for personal time. Efforts spent one-on-one in mentoring those who need it most can pay huge dividends in the long run.

Those who are born into a multigenerational legacy of poverty find themselves in circumstances they don't know how to escape. Personal attention in volunteer organizations can provide the one-on-one support and personal examples that are essential to help individuals break the cycle.

It is therefore not enough to lament the tragedy of impoverished children living in terrible conditions. Instead, each of us has a responsibility to help them find a way out.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company