It is a national disgrace that children are the poorest Americans. The Children’s Defense Fund’s new report The State of America’s Children® 2017 details the immoral, costly and preventable poverty, homelessness, hunger, health problems, poor education and violence plaguing children who are America’s responsibility and future. The U.S. has 73.6 million children. Nearly 1 in 5 are poor—more than 13.2 million. Children of color, who will be a majority of our children by 2020, are disproportionately poor. About 1 in 3 Black, 1 in 3 American Indian/Alaskan Native and 1 in 4 Hispanic children are poor compared to 1 in 9 White children. Nearly 70 percent of poor children are non-White. Imagine a young girl—let’s call her Janie—who is one of those millions of poor children. Maybe she lives in California or Texas, the states with the biggest numbers of poor children, or in New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Kentucky, the states with the highest child poverty rates. What else do we know about what Janie’s life may be like?
Janie may be one of the 3.9 million children who still lack health coverage or one of the nearly 9 million children at risk of losing coverage because of Congress’s shameful inaction in funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She might be one of the nearly 1 in 5 children—14.8 million—who live in food-insecure households and don’t have enough to eat. As a poor child she probably didn’t get the best chance to start school ready to learn because less than half of poor children are ready for school at age 5 compared with 75 percent of their wealthier peers. Only 5 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are in Early Head Start and 54 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds are in Head Start. As she grows up, Janie may never catch up: The majority of all public school fourth and eighth graders cannot read at grade level and more than 75 percent of lower-income fourth and eighth grade public school students could not read or compute at grade level compared with less than 55 percent of higher-income students.
Growing up poor means Janie is more likely to be involved in the child welfare system—every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected, the majority of them victims of neglect, and the number of children in foster care is increasing rapidly as the opioid crisis spins out of control. She may even be one of the more than 1.2 million public school children who are homeless. She also would be more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system, one of the 2,805 children arrested every day. Finally, growing up in America puts her at risk of the very American scourge of gun violence. Although the U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population, our civilians own 35-50 percent of civilian–owned guns in the world, most recently estimated as high as 310 million guns. In contrast, U.S. military and law enforcement combined owned only 4 million guns. Eight children and teens are killed with guns every day and gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black children and teens.
How are the leaders of our wealthy nation addressing the grim child survival needs of children like Janie across the country? Making them worse. It is a disgrace. What kind of leaders and people cut essential food and health care from babies and children to give massive tax cuts to billionaires and corporations? This is one of the scariest times America’s children have faced in the struggle to level the playing field as the last 50 years of progress in child health coverage, nutrition, education, and other child and family programs are ravaged. We should be building on what we know works and moving forward, not backwards, to improve the odds for children who need our protection. We urge the American public to stand up and stop this savage war on children. The White House and Republican members now celebrating the massive and morally obscene tax cuts are expected to add to the outrageous injustice by slashing Medicaid, SNAP, education, housing and other crucial child investments to pay for welfare for non-needy millionaires, billionaires and corporations.
We can and must do better – and need to follow up on proven solutions that work to improve the odds for America’s children at the same time that we fight all efforts to take away the gains we’ve already made after laborious work over a half century. The State of America’s Children® 2017 is a critical tool for everyone who cares about whether children are treated fairly and our nation’s future. It provides a comprehensive overview of children’s status nationally and in each state. The report also addresses the especially dire needs facing children in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands even before last year’s hurricanes, which worsened them; offers a portrait of immigrant children; and describes how poorly we rank among rich countries for investing in children. Despite our great wealth, the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in investing in our children and consistently ranks among the worst on key child outcomes. We should be ashamed. Addressing our moral poverty and preparation of our young for fruitful lives should be our priority.
We must persist but we need your help. We ask you to use the data in The State of America’s Children® 2017 along with stories of children you know or work with and share them with your Members of Congress and with us. Download The State of America’s Children® 2017 and a volume of one-page factsheets summarizing children’s status in your individual states, the District of Columbia and nationwide and use our interactive map to see how children in your state are faring. Ask your Representative and Senators whether they would deprive their own children of the health care, food, and education they need. Please rev up your engines of outrage and courage in 2018 and make sure we keep moving forward with persistence to protect our children’s futures and the future of our nation and world.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.