Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mississippi relies on foreign aid

One of the poorest areas of the U.S. is in central Mississippi. The area is so poor that is not only depends on government assistance from the U.S. but it relies on foreign aid as well.

From the Huffington Post, writer Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund tells us how they made this discovery.

The Children’s Defense Fund commissioned Julia Cass, an award-winning journalist, to prepare a report on child poverty and to interview poor children and families. She began in Quitman County, Mississippi, a touchstone of poverty in America that was the starting point of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

There, she made a startling discovery: Enriching experiences for children are so meager and government aid so spotty that after school tutoring and reading programs in Quitman and three other Mississippi Delta counties are financed by what is essentially foreign aid—The Bernard van Leer Foundation of the Netherlands.

"The foundation focuses on children and families in what it refers to as oppressed societies," said Betty Ward Fletcher. Her Jackson-based consulting firm was contracted by the Dutch foundation to help it design a program in Mississippi, called Children's Villages, for children aged 5 to 14. "Some of its people wondered why it should be working in the most affluent country in the world, but they decided the reality is, we have poor children in this country who are denied the opportunity to be all they can be." Fletcher heard of a ten-year-old boy consistently breaking into homes. He would eat and play on the computer and then leave.

People and jobs are leaving Quitman County, as in other parts of rural America. Adults without the money or education to make it elsewhere are stuck—and their children are stuck with them.

A good education is a major escape route but it is a well-known disgrace that America's poorest children generally go to the worst schools, which perpetuates disadvantage. A study done by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts found that of American children born to parents in the bottom fifth income level, 42 percent—and 54 percent of African American children—remained there as adults.

Only about 30 percent of the children who graduate from Quitman County's Madison Palmer High School go to college, primarily to the two junior colleges in neighboring counties. About two graduates a year have the test scores and scholarships to make it to the University of Mississippi. Very few go to colleges outside Mississippi and none make it to an Ivy League or top-drawer private college or university.

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