Marian Wright Edelman recently spoke at the City Club of Cleveland. She is the president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund. Her accomplishments and credentials are too numerous to include here. She spoke on the issue of child poverty in the United States.
"A nation that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand tall in the 21st century or before our God."
This so-called great United States of America has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized nations despite having the largest economy in the world. Shocking. Shameful.
There are 14.7 million poor children in this country. This exceeds the population of Ohio and Iowa put together. An American child has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor.
Six and a half million are in extreme poverty. This exceeds the population of Connecticut and Mississippi put together.
Cleveland and Cuyahoga County:
Over half the children in Cleveland are poor (54%) with 28% considered in extreme poverty.
Twenty-four percent of Cleveland's children were food insecure in 2013.
Poverty has life-long consequences. The younger the child the poorer he or she is likely to be - this is during the time of crucial brain development. Growing up poor decreases the likelihood of graduating from high school, and increases the likelihood of having poor health, being poor in adulthood and being involved in the criminal justice system. It costs this country dearly everyday.
As Edelman said - these children did not ask to be born, did not choose their parents, their country, state, city, faith or race but in 35 other nation they would be less likely to be poor only ahead of Rumania whose economy is 99% smaller than ours.
"Saving our children is about saving our country. I hope we will begin to counter the fact that too often our politics trumps these policies, moral decency and responsibility for the next generation."
Edelman stated that there are nine programs, already proven successful, that could eradicate at least 60% of child poverty. Her organization has detailed them and shown what they would cost. The cost would be 77.2 billion dollars as opposed to the $500 billion that poverty costs this country every year. These programs would include things like basic housing (which would in itself eliminate 2.3 million children from poverty), food availability for children, early childhood programs, school nurses, and home intervention programs.
(These could easily be paid for if only our leaders would allow it. If they simply eliminated tax breaks to the rich in America we could save $84 billion. Congress just voted to repeal the estate tax for the wealthiest 5400 Americans at a cost of $269 billion. They just voted to give the Pentagon $38 billion even though it was not asked for.)
WHY can't our government do what's right? Why wouldn't they want to eliminate our citizen's suffering? Why wouldn't they want to improve children's futures? Why wouldn't they want to actually save money by spending some on the poor? Why wouldn't they want to reduce the billions of dollars spent on mass incarceration in our country?
The answer is moral judgement. What other reason could it be? They are against "hand-outs". They want people to pull them up by their bootstraps - but children don't have bootstraps - they are victims. And what poverty does to children will simply be passed down to their children. Poor health, poor education, prone to crime.
And moral judgment includes that those who have comfy lives think they deserve it. They've earned it. They do not recognize the advantages they started out with because they do not want to admit that they could have been born into poverty as well, but were simply fortunate not to be. They do not want to share what they have. It is greed. It is entitlement. It is discriminatory.
You may not believe in helping poor people that, in your judgement, have no reason to be - but children don't have those choices. Yet, they are the future of America.