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Sunday, April 13, 2014

SAVE the CHILDREN

Sometimes, it is terribly important to speak very plainly.  The United States government, many state governments, and local governments - and the representatives who are supposed to be representing us -- are simply guilty of abusing and neglecting children.  It just simply can't get any plainer than that!  Well, yes it can, and here's how.

Poor children, in particular, are being neglected and abused by a myriad of government failings and actions.  Let us first cite some important statistics from a Children's Defense Fund (CDF) Report on "The State of America's Children 2014", in order to set the stage for what must be said and done to alleviate such conditions and circumstances:

--Every fifth child (16.1 million) is poor, and every tenth child (7.1 million) is extremely poor.  Children are the poorest age group, and the younger they are, the poorer they are!
--Every fourth infant, toddler and pre-school child (5 million) is poor; 1 in 8 is extremely poor.
--At this point, a majority of our one and two year olds are children of color.  Within five years, children of color, who are disproportionately poor (nearly 1 in 3) will be a majority of all children in America, and in our future workforce, military, and as consumers. 
--Millions of these children are unready for school, poorly educated, and unprepared to face the future
--Nearly 60 per cent of all our children, and more than 80% of our Black and 75% of our Latino children cannot read or compute at grade level in 4th and 8th grades and so many drop-out of school before graduating.

--75% of young people, ages 17-24, cannot get into the military because of poor literacy, health, or prior incarceration.

--Nearly 1.2 million public school students were homeless in 2011-2012, 73% more than before the Great Recession
--Less than half of 3- and 4-year olds were enrolled in preschool in 2009-2011.  Early Head Start funding served only 4% of the 2.9 million eligible poor infants and toddlers  on any given day in FY 2012, and Head Start funding served only 41% of the 2 million eligible poor 3- and 4-year olds.
--More than 1 in 9 children lacked access to adequate food in 2012, 23% higher than before the Great Recession.  89% of children who relied on free or reduced price lunch during the school year did not receive meals through the Summer Food Service Program in 2012.
--In an average month in FY2011, 1.2 million households with children had no cash income and depended only on the SNAP program to stave off hunger
--Without government tax credits, food, housing and energy benefits, extreme child poverty would have been 240% higher!  In other words, Government safety net programs actually lifted 9 million children from poverty in 2012, including 5.4 million through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, and 2.2 million through SNAP.

--In no state could an individual working full-time at minimum wage afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom rental unit and still have enough for food, utilities and other necessities in 2013.
--A child - most likely an infant or toddler - is abused or neglected every 47 seconds
--Nearly 40% who are abused or neglected receive no post-investigation services or fewer services than they need
--In 2012, 101,719 children in foster care were waiting to be adopted
--4,028 children are arrested each day -- one every 21 seconds, and 1,790 children are serving sentences in adult prisons.
--U.S. children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in 25 other high-income countries. 
--Gun violence disproportionately affects children of color.  In 2010, Black children and teens were nearly five times, and Hispanic children and teens were more than three times, more likely to be killed by guns than White children and teens.
--40% of children who needed mental health services did not receive them in 2011-2012.
--Family health care costs pushed more than 2 million children into poverty in 2012.

"The greatest threat to America's economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high-income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young".  So states Marian Wright-Edelman, CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, in her Preface to this Report.  Pope Francis has backed up her thoughts with one of his own: "A population that does not take care of the elderly and the children and the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise." 

Is that where we as a nation have placed ourselves: on the brink of destruction of our stature, our country and our shining light of representative democracy?  One would hope not, but the facts and the statistics seem to indicate otherwise.  The Radical Republicans who have taken over (and begun to destroy) a strong central government with programs that have worked to alleviate some of these conditions, are hell-bent on making everyone in our society lift themselves up on their own accord, or fall by the wayside and get out of the way.  It appears to me that they have forgotten some very important axioms.

1)    children constitute the future of this country
2)    investment in the future i.e. the children, is a necessity
3)    the cost of neglecting this task is enormous
4)    current costs of inaction are increasing

Unfortunately, I think I know part of the reason that the Radical Right thinks it is on the right track:

1)    they believe our future does not lie in the funding of programs for the uneducated, the un-rich, and the under-class because they regard all of "them" as unworthy and thus unproductive.
2)    but they do believe (wrongly I think) that all this country needs for leadership, and innovation, and entrepreneurship, and prosperity are the sons and daughters of a rich plutocracy that can afford the best of everything, and thus produce the best of everything.  They think an elite private education, combined with well-invested resources and an innate sense of business acumen will lead the nation to a pre-eminent position once again in world politics.

Yes.  The Plutocracy, the new aristocracy, the elite -- call them what you will -- believe firmly that the destiny of this nation rests in their hands, not the hands of any other group or class.  They simply do not buy the axiom that "growing the middle class" is the way to prosperity.  The cost to this nation because of just such an attitude will be enormous as we begin to fade from our coveted number one spot to something more in the range of 10th or 12th.  Ask Britain -- they know how it feels to fall far in terms of top performance.

If our attitudes toward poor and minority children don't improve drastically, we shall continue to lose potential leaders, potential entrepreneurs, potential teachers and other professionals, great economists and inventors and researchers, as well as scientists.  Every time a child fails because he or she is poor, or Black, or Hispanic,  homeless or malnourished, we have lost a resource for this country.  Moreover, I hate to think of all the potential we have already lost because our system does not recognize this potential, but eschews its very existence.  Not only are we scrapping human resources and potential, but we are costing ourselves enormous sums in terms of achievement and productivity by the simple denial of the fact that government help and aid and resources can undo some of the effects of poverty and produce winners and leaders in more than one limited class.  

Let me just lay before you some of the preventable costs that the CDF Report says are already plaguing us as a nation

*    child poverty costs the nation at least $500 billion each year just in extra education, health and justice costs, and in lost productivity
*     child abuse and neglect cases cost the U.S. $80.3 billion each year in direct costs and lost productivity
*    gun deaths and injuries cost the U.S. $174.1 billion each year, or 1.15% of our total Gross domestic product
*    the high school students who dropped out of the class of 2011 will cost the nation's economy an estimated $154 billion in lost income over the course of their lifetimes
*     the achievement gap between American students and those in top-performing countries like Finland and Korea cost this nation $1.3 to $2.3 trillion in 2008

As the CDF Report indicates, "We can afford to do better."  In terms of counter-revolution of which we spoke in our last posting, we can turn some things upside down and inside out.  Here are a few of the suggestions in the Report.

  • the amount the U.S. spends per minute on corporate tax breaks would pay the salary of 16 child caseworkers, and expanding childcare increases the work participation of poor working mothers.  More than 220,000 children are currently on waiting lists for childcare assistance.
  • three days' worth of the amount spent on corporate tax breaks would provide a whole year's worth of SNAP food assistance for the estimated 737,000 children who don't have enough food.
  • the amount the U.S. spends per year on corporate tax breaks for private jets would pay the salaries of 6,400 high school teachers
  • all poor infants and toddlers could have been served by Early Head Start if the government had simply diverted 18 days of defense spending,.  Currently, only about 4% of eligible children reap the benefits of this high quality early learning experience
  • more than 17,500 low-income children could enroll in Head Start for a year for the cost of just one F-35 fighter jet among the nearly 2.500 the DoD is scheduled to buy.

The justification for the austerity, the penury, and the cutting of social programs is often simply that we cannot afford them; that our deficit is already excessively even dangerously high.  This amazing rhetoric seems to miss a very decisive point: we cannot afford not to invest in our children because the consequences will be much worse than a strained budget.  Edelman says this: "If the foundation of your house is crumbling you must fix it.  Education is a lot cheaper than ignorance.  Preschool education is a bargain compared to prison."  Apparently, the Radical Republicans just don't get it, and they persist in putting forth for passage a budget that favors the rich and over-burdens the poor, in almost every aspect imaginable, instead of the other way round.  The Paul Ryan budget for FY2015 is the pre-eminent example.  You cannot continually protect and embellish a small group of rich people and expect that will make up for the harm done to our most precious resource: our children.

Where is the spirit of investment that usually characterizes the Plutocrats?  You would think, above all, that they would recognize the potential return on investment that this country would garner.  Nobel-prize winning economist, James Heckman, estimates a lifelong economic rate of return of 7-10% each year for every dollar invested in quality early childhood programs.    Are the Radical Republicans simply touting an ideology for its own sake instead of endorsing the most advantageous direction for the country, namely the investment in the general welfare and success of the poor, the working poor, and the middle class?  I suspect we have it about right!

Marion Wright Edelman ends her Preface to the CDF Report by telling a story about a young 12 year-old black boy in Washington, DC, who she encountered in a classroom where she was speaking to students about the riots and looting that took place in American cities when Dr. King was assassinated, and telling them not to jeopardize their futures by such actions.  The boy looked her in the eye and said, "Lady, what future?  I ain't got no future.  I ain't got nothing to lose." 

She concludes: "The Children's Defense Fund has spent the last 40 years trying to prove that boy's truth wrong in our economically and militarily powerful and spiritually poor nation.  And we will never stop until we succeed.  It's time to give him and the 16.1 million poor children like him today a fair chance to succeed and to keep Dr. King's dream - for him and the millions like him - alive."

I agree that's what we need to do, but how?  How do we turn the system inside out so that planes and tax subsidies and tax cuts for the rich become lesser priorities than the education, training, health, wages and quality of life for all children whatever their ethnic origin or their racial makeup?  Stay tuned....