A series of troubling headlines came out recently that raise questions about the current debate in New Jersey and the country about whether we can afford much of the heart of our current government services, including health care, education, and defense.
The World Health Organization published a new report that compares the rates of infant mortality internationally. The United States ranked 41st among all countries, and was outranked by Cuba, Poland, Malaysia, Lithuania and South Korea. One of the difficult challenges related to infant mortality in the U.S. is the high rate of pre-term delivery — research shows that families living in poverty face an increased risk for pre-term delivery and that their access to high quality health care to deal with a high-risk birth is restricted.
The second headline, based on a new report from Rutgers University, states: “More unemployed people have given up”. The report finds that many unemployed are feeling desperate and helpless in their search for a job. A co-author of the report states: “The sense of desperation and feeling of helplessness in our respondents are almost palpable… Many are watching the erosion of what it took a lifetime to build. They are out of work and almost out of hope for themselves and the nation’s economy”.
A third headline, from USA Today last year, reads: “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950”. The article begins: “Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman’s presidency”. The story continues that the current rate of 9.2% of all personal income “is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century”.
These stories come during a time when many leaders are demanding even deeper and more dramatic cuts in health care and all government programs. They insist we cannot afford these programs and that individuals in the US should be on their own to buy health insurance… which, unfortunately, is unaffordable for most. The new cuts would certainly target Medicaid, making it even more difficult than it is today for the most vulnerable families to get the basic health services they need, including prenatal care and pediatric services for their children.
The call for cuts in basic support for families underscores the feeling that many of our nation’s leaders seem to have lost the sense of compassion that lies at the heart of the country’s founding, and which has been reflected in many of its greatest achievements, including civil rights, Medicare, social security and recoveries from natural disasters.
All of these proposed cuts would increase the stress faced by moms, dads and children living in neighborhoods in nearly every community in the U.S. Long-term unemployment has been shown to lead to anger, frustration, and depression — all circumstances that harm children and increase the risk for child abuse or neglect. Further cuts in basic health care will make it harder for parents to get medical care for their children when they are sick and weaken an already weak safety net for health care. The rate of infant mortality will only increase.
Ghandi once stated: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members,” and all of these headlines raise fundamental questions about how the U.S. cares for its children.
A number of national organizations, including Prevent Child Abuse America, The Child Welfare League, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Humane Association, are calling for a new “movement”, one that asks that basic question about how we care, as a society, for our children. The movement recognizes that children do not vote, are not represented by powerful lobbyists and do not contribute millions of dollars for election campaigns… and thus, they often get lost in the debate. The new campaign asks the question: “What does our country need to do to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development?” The goal is to increase the public dialogue about where children fit into the policy decisions being made in Washington and in our state capitals, and to build greater accountability into the decisions made by policymakers are we go forward. Maybe even more than that, it can restore just a bit of that basic compassion that seems to have been lost. For more information about the Movement or to sign a pledge to join, go to: www.movementforchildren.org.