Zirpoli: Children not a national priority

Let’s be honest. American children are not a national priority. I base this statement on two observations: How we spend our national resources and how we look after the overall well-being of our nation’s children.

The Pentagon is our nation’s top priority. President Donald Trump’s FY19 budget increased spending for the DOD a full $100 billion dollars to $700 billion. The DOD gets a blank check, regardless of our budget deficit of $21 trillion national debt, leaving few resources for our nation’s children.


Our federal government recently cut $1.5 trillion in taxes, mostly benefiting corporations and the rich. Meanwhile, Trump’s FY19 budget calls for cuts to almost every program or service touching the well-being of our children, from their education to their health care.

Our federal government says it is pro-life. Yet, once American children are born, the government no longer seems to value their lives. We are one of the only developed nations in the world that does not provide universal prenatal care, parental leave, early childhood education, early intervention and health care for our nation’s children. Most nations do these things rather than spend $700 billion each year on their military. They take care of their children. The U.S. maintains 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and nine smaller ones. The last carrier cost $17 billion to build and there are two more under construction. In comparison, Russia and China have one each.

Most nations believe that investing in their children is critical for their long-term success. It is a philosophy our current federal government does not share.

As the latest headlines suggest, we don’t do a good job of keeping our children safe either. Our guns are more important than our children. We could have both, safe guns and safe kids, but that would mean placing our “right to bear arms” on equal footing with reasonable restrictions that keep our children safe. But America is more pro-gun than pro-life.

As stated by David Leonhardt writing for The New York Times, we “have grown callous about the lives of” our children. “We mourn their deaths when they happen, of course. But it’s an empty mourning, because it is not accompanied by any effort to prevent more suffering — including straightforward steps that every other affluent nation has taken.” Maybe our children, tired of watching their friends gunned down in their classrooms, will make a difference. Their parents and grandparents — their nation — have failed them.

The “right to life” party does little to keep babies alive after they are born. A recent UNICEF report looked at newborn mortality rates from 1990 through 2016 and found that the infant mortality rate in America was about one in 270 births. This is higher than many poorer countries such as Cyprus, Cuba, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Slovenia and Singapore. Japan had the lowest infant mortality rate at one death in every 1,111 births. Pakistan had the highest infant mortality rate at one in every 22 births. The infant mortality rate is related to a nation’s wealth and health care availability. The United States is wealthy, yet quality health care is costly, unavailable to many families, and not a national priority.

According to the American Journal of Public Health, infant mortality rates have dropped in states that have adopted the option to expand Medicaid coverage under The Affordable Care Act, and risen in states that have refused to adopt expanded Medicaid. Interestingly, most of these states are governed by the “pro-life” party, yet their health care policies are directly linked to higher death rates for infants and children in their states.

As stated by Leonhardt, “Other countries are simply trying harder to keep their children alive. They have studied major causes of death and then attack them, in an evidence-based way.” In America, many politicians are anti-science and don’t believe in basic solutions to improve the well-being of our nation’s children, such as vaccinations and early intervention.

Look at the poor condition of many of our nation’s schools. Think about what we could have done with that $1.5 trillion tax cut to improve our children’s education and access to college, to improve their health care, to provide more working families with affordable day care and early childhood programs, and to give our teachers all the tools and resources they need to successfully teach our children.

Our nation’s current priorities will not make us great. Nations that do not invest in their children cannot be great. As the well-being of our children declines, our nation declines, no matter how many aircraft carriers we have.