Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A School Breakfast for Every Child

Hilzoy passes along a snapshot of what the recession is beginning to look like for low income Americans:

Already there are signs that the recession is hitting low-income Americans hard. Between September 2006 and October 2008, the unemployment rate for workers age 25 and over who lack a high school diploma -- a heavily low-income group -- increased from 6.3 percent to 10.3 percent. Yet low-income workers who lose their jobs are less likely to qualify for unemployment benefits than higher-income workers, due to eligibility rules in place in many states that deny benefits to individuals who worked part time or did not earn enough over a "base period" that often excludes workers' most recent employment.

As another sign that poverty is now climbing rapidly, food stamp caseloads have increased dramatically in recent months, rising by 2.6 million people or 9.6 percent between August 2007 and August 2008, the latest month for which data are available. In 25 states, at least one in every five children is receiving food stamps. Because monthly food stamp caseload data are available long before the official Census poverty data for the prior calendar year, rising food stamp caseloads are the best early warning sign of growing poverty.

He suggests that one simple way to ameliorate the effects of childhood poverty is to feed every child in school:
I'd like to suggest one further measure aimed at the kids: universal school breakfasts. (Why universal? It saves paperwork, removes stigma, and makes the program much easier to administer.) Besides protecting kids from hunger, school breakfasts also make them more likely to learn and less likely to have behavioral problems. They seem to increase school attendance. We spend lots of time and energy trying to figure out ways to improve our schools; if what we're interested in is kids actually learning, making sure that they have eaten recently is a pretty good way to start.
I think this is a great idea. I could imagine that there are cereal makers who would be willing to step up to the plate to provide healthy breakfasts for free promotion. It would make mornings easier on parents, and most importantly every child begins the day well-fed.

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