We learned last week that one in six Americans is living in poverty, about 15.1 percent. For children, the poverty rate rose from 20.7 percent to 22 percent last year. Bob Jacobson with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families says poverty has a devastating effect on kids.

“Growing up poor affects your health, it affects your educational success; it even affects your long term likelihood of getting involved in the criminal justice system.”

Jacobson says growing up poor puts children at an early disadvantage. He says investing in youngsters is the best investment of public dollars; offsetting some of the negative effects of poverty. “Because it both saves money in the long run — you end up with lower costs in remedial educational services, lower juvenile justice costs, lower healthcare costs — but it’s also just the right thing to do morally.”

Jacobson says it’s a matter of priorities. He says policymakers need to focus on poverty reduction rather than deficit reduction. “We need a response other than just to throw their hands up in the air and say ‘sorry we can’t afford to help’. We can’t afford not to help.”

He says that means investing in programs like BadgerCarePlus, Wisconsin Shares and the Earned Income Tax Credit. This week the Census Bureau will release more detailed information with a bigger sample size at the city and county level.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:29

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