PHILADELPHIA – As the presidential campaigns ramp up, some experts say one of the country’s major problems is being ignored.

Child poverty has gotten worse in many states, including Pennsylvania, since the end of the Great Recession.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 Kids Count Data Book, more than 20 percent of the nation’s children now live in poverty.

That means their families struggle to meet basic needs such as food, safe housing and affordable child care.

Michael Race, vice president for communications at Pennsylvania Partnership for Children, says voters need to take the issue to the candidates.

“If voters take the reins and start demanding that political candidates address issues related to children, that’s one way we can elevate the issue of improving children’s well-being,” he states.

With one in five children living in poverty, Pennsylvania now ranks 22nd in the nation for child economic well being, down from 19th in last year’s rankings.

UNICEF ranks the United States second-to-last among 35 nations for child poverty.

According to researcher Julia Isaacs with the Urban Institute, poor children are at greater risk for health problems and negative educational and life outcomes.

“It’s that combination of factors, the long-term effects on kids, the fact that we are a wealthy nation, and the fact that poverty rates are lower for other ages is why it does seem like we could do more to reduce poverty among children,” she explains.

There are federal policies and programs that can have a direct impact on child poverty, such as raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, nutrition, education and safety net programs.

But Bruce Lesley, president of the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus, notes that a study of the first 10 presidential primary debates found only one of the 500 questions asked was specific to children.

He contends that child poverty is a critical matter that candidates should prioritize.

“If they would engage in the conversation, I think they would find a very receptive audience among the public, but because kids don’t vote, they don’t have PACs, they’re not donating to campaigns, they’re not on top of mind, and so it’s a huge problem that we face,” he stresses.

The first presidential debate is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York.

Andrea Sears