Assemblywoman Autumn Burke is trying to hold the state accountable for child poverty

By Gary Walker

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D- Marina del Rey)

Data drives the California economy. State Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D- Marina del Rey) wants to put it to work for California’s poorest children.

Now wending its way through the Legislature, Burke’s Assembly Bill 1520 — titled the Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act — would task the state Department of Finance with analyzing how each year’s proposed state budget would impact California’s child poverty rate.

The intent of such reporting is to ensure that future state spending plans would be measured against an overall goal of reducing child poverty in the state by at least 50% over the next 20 years.

California has the highest rate of child poverty in the nation — about 20%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which considers not only household income but also cost of living.

“It is devastating and embarrassing to have the fifth largest economy in the world and yet so many children are in poverty,” said Burke, an edge in her voice. “This is unacceptable, and it offends me to my core.”

Burke’s 62nd Assembly District includes affluent areas such as Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey, Venice and parts of Westchester. But there are also pockets of the district that have higher populations of low-income families, including Del Rey, Lennox and Hawthorne.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a study area that included Westchester, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Culver City, Del Rey and portion of Venice had an overall child poverty rate of about 13%, with the poverty line for a family of four drawn at an annual income of about $31,000.

“The way I look at all legislation is I’m a state representative, but I always have home in mind,” Burke said, who tapped two Democrats and a Republican as coauthors of her bill. “This is an accountability measure. I don’t see why it shouldn’t move forward with bipartisan support.”

In the 90066 area code, which includes Mar Vista and Del Rey, the Census Bureau reported that 13.2% of children under age five live in poverty. That would include many clients of the Mar Vista Family Center, which provides early childhood education, summer camps, tutoring and other programs for children in low-income families.

“Sometimes the focus is on intervention with teenagers when they get in trouble. … We try to intervene when children are younger because it costs more — morally and financially — to do interventions [later],” said Mar Vista Center Executive Director Lucia Diaz.

Venice Family Clinic Executive Director Elizabeth Benson Forer also applauded Burke’s bill.

“It’s critical to address this topic,” she said. “At the clinic we work with families to meet their basic needs and to make them aware of the importance of keeping their children healthy — which includes excellent health care, nutrition, a loving family, and a lack of violence in and around the family.”

The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that being poor is the single biggest threat to a child’s well-being and can greatly contribute to social, emotional and behavioral problems.

Burke says that enough studies have  been done on the impacts of child poverty.

“This is a call to action,” she said. “The children cannot continue to wait. Their futures have already started.”

AB 1520 faces a vote in the Assembly’s Human Services Committee on April 25.