MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Of all the compelling statistics about a nation that is seeing most of its wealth consolidated in the hands of a few oligarchs, one of the most distressing is that the number of homeless students in the United States is rising every year - and is currently at record levels.
The Huffington Post recently reported on a government study that provided the statistical proof:
The number of homeless students in the United States reached a record high during the 2012-13 school year, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education.
The report released Monday shows that homeless children enrolled in public preschool and grades K-12 jumped 8 percent from the previous school year to hit 1,258,182.
Yes, that is more than 1.25 million students in the United States who meet the definition of being homeless. It is hard to think of a greater indication of the degradation of values in the US than this trend.
The student homelessness spike is related to another lamentable fact that demonstrates how this country comes up horribly short on compassion. According to the Huffington Post,
The U.S. childhood poverty rate hit its highest level in 20 years back in 2010 and it’s showing no signs of letting up, a recent report concluded.
More than 16 million American children live in poverty -- a staggering reality that leads to devastating health risks, in addition to overwhelming economic disadvantages, according to a new study published by JAMA Pediatrics.
The figures have remained unchanged since they peaked in 2010 and federal spending on children dropped by more than $20 billion since that year.
It would be difficult not to draw a correlation between the dramatic drop in support services for children in need and the rise in student homelessness, amidst a sea of children in poverty. However, there is a more direct economic factor at work: The current financial system in the United States is premised on there being winners and losers. That is the Ayn Rand principle espoused by the likes of the GOP budget spokesperson, Congressman Paul Ryan.
As a result, an economy built upon a premise of selfish acquisition of money has poverty built into it as a permanent feature. That is because the poor are proof that the uber-rich are proving their "worthiness" by the prevalence of the indigent. One result of this scenario - which is currently playing itself out in the US - is an inexorable increase in student homelessness.
This epidemic of student homelessness is not confined to students of color, the victims of urban plantation economics, or to a particular geographic area. If one Googles student homelessness, this deplorable condition is occurring throughout the nation. From Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Asheville, North Carolina; from York County, Pennsylvania, to Niles, Michigan; from Tampa, Florida, to Independence, Iowa - the plight of student homelessness is spreading.
New York, in particular, has seen a new high in the number of students without a permanent place to live. According to the New York Daily News:
The number of homeless kids in city schools has jumped 63% in five years — a spike fueled by huge growth in traditionally middle-class Brooklyn and Queens enclaves.
Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Borough Park saw a 183% rise in homeless students, according to an Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness report.
Other middle-class areas with dramatic growth in homeless student populations include school district 24 — which covers Sunnyside and Maspeth — and district 26, which includes Bayside, Little Neck and Fresh Meadows.
Overall, the city had 77,915 homeless students in the 2012-13 school year. That’s up from 47,895 five years ago and includes double-digit growth in all 32 city districts.
The scourge of student homelessness won't be solved by charitable drives or news stories laced with a pitying tone. After all, many students don't have a regular place to sleep, eat or study because their families do not have permanent shelter. Other students don't have families or have left home.
What is needed is a society that values all students, including those who are poor and homeless - and incorporates them into an economic system that is not built on the Gordon Gekko motto that "greed is good."
Until the concentration of wealth in the US begins to dramatically fall, the number of homeless students will continue to rise.
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