While our nation is distracted by investigations and shutdowns, I’m afraid that we are not paying attention to other important issues that have long-term consequences. One of these issues is the state of our nation’s children. You know things are bad when the United States is mentioned in a United Nations report on child poverty. It seems that child poverty in America is a significant issue, getting worse, and not a priority of our national government.
“A shockingly high number of children in the U.S. live in poverty,” said Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative for poverty and human rights. One in five American children live in poverty and one in five children in America are homeless. The report found, for example, that a newborn black child in South Carolina has a shorter life expectancy than a child born in China.
Our children don’t have safe drinking water in many places in America. Lead in drinking water causes brain damage and developmental disabilities in our children. Instead of spending $5 billion on more border walls, we can replace lead pipes in America that continue to poison our children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “At least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above” poisoning levels. This is an emergency requiring presidential action.
Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times that, “The paradox is that the United States historically was a safe and nurturing place for children. America helped lead the world in mass education, and in 1960 children here died at lower rates than in most other advanced countries.” But, writes Kristof, “Since about 1970 … as other countries provided universal health care and built up social safety nets, American kids have been dying at higher rates.”
Kristof wonders why we offer universal health care for senior citizens, which is expensive, but not for our nation’s children, which is cheap and would save money in the long-term. For those who believe we can’t do anything about child poverty in the United States, Kristof cites the example of the former prime minister of Great Britain who made childhood poverty a national priority and cut it nearly in half. Certainly, we can do that in America, too. Yet, who is advocating for our nation’s children today? Our president never even talks about the welfare of our nation’s children.
Imagine what America could do if we invested $1.5 trillion in our children, instead of tax cuts going mainly to the rich. That kind of money could provide appropriate nutrition and preschool experiences to all of our nation’s children. Many nations already do this, but when it comes to caring for our children, the United States is becoming third world nation. Instead, our politicians cut taxes and then, after causing the deficit to grow out of control because of their tax cuts, claim the need to cut services to our children to reduce the deficit. This vicious cycle has been going on for decades causing our nation’s rich to become richer while our children become poorer.
The Affordable Care Act cut the number of children without health insurance. Actions by the current administration and Republicans in Congress, however, have weakened the ACA. As a result, the number of uninsured children in the United States has increased over the past two years. Can’t our rich nation afford to provide free health care to all American children, regardless of their families’ economic status? Unlike tax cuts, health care for children really does pay for itself in the long-term.
The Economic Policy Institute found that after the 2017 tax cut, “the average compensation for the CEO of large companies increased by 17.6 percent.” I’m pretty sure the average American worker has not received an increase even close to that. Once again, the rich got richer thanks to their friends in Congress.
Without significant investments in our children’s health and education, our nation cannot be great. In fact, instead of making us great, ignoring the needs of our children will be our nation’s demise. Already, life expectancy in America, once the best in the world, is dropping significantly. But our greatest deficit, I fear, is the ability of politicians to care. Kids, after all, don’t vote. Their parents do, but they don’t seem to make the connection between the actions of the politicians they support and the well-being of their own children.