Terrance Heath

Suffer the Children

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 18, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Census Bureau, poverty in America

On Thursday, I wrote about the recession from the point of view of a parent concerned about what the state of the economy -- and Washington’s inaction in the midst of an economic crisis -- implies for my children’s future, and all our children’s futures.

Given what I’ve been writing for the past few years about upward mobility and the state of "the American Dream," it doesn’t come as a surprise suffer-the-children.jpgto me that downward mobility is the trend that seems likely to dominate the next decade -- especially if Washington continues its current trend.

...It’s this that makes me look at my children and then lie awake at night worrying that one day they will wonder why we lied to them.

We don’t mean to lie to them. We’re only telling them what our parents told us -- that if we were willing to study and work hard, we could raise ourselves up from the good start they worked to give to us, do better than our parents did, and give our own children an even better start than we got. It was "the American Dream," as told to us by our parents.

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

We didn’t intend to lie. Indeed, it wasn’t always a lie, but somewhere along the way -- during my own lifetime -- it became a lie. And what keeps me awake a night is the thought that it might stay a lie.

On Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its report on poverty in America.

Nearly one in six Americans was living in poverty last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, a development that is ensnaring growing numbers of children and offering vivid proof of the recession's devastating impact.

The report portrays a nation where many people are slipping backward in the wake of a downturn that left 14 million people out of work and pushed unemployment rates to levels not seen in decades.

As poverty surged last year to its highest level since 1993, median household income declined, leaving the typical American household earning less in inflation-adjusted dollars than it did in 1997.

Ominously, several analysts said, unemployment is projected to remain unusually high for the foreseeable future, meaning that the nation is probably in for an extended period of rising poverty and declining income.

The numbers were particularly devastating for children.


Source: EPI 

The economic turmoil has pummeled children, for whom the poverty rate last year -- 22 percent -- was at the highest level since 1993. The rate for black children climbed to nearly 40 percent, and more than a third of Hispanic children lived in poverty, the Census Bureau reported. The rate for white children was reported as above 12 percent.

..."We had almost 1 million more children fall into poverty between 2009 and 2010," said Catherine V. Beane, policy director at the Children's Defense Fund. "We also have seen a continued increase in the number of children who live in extreme poverty," for instance, a family of four living on $30 a day.

As Jared Bernstein wrote, it adds up to a "lost decade" for middle- and working-class Americans -- the second in a row, if you count the "lost decade" of zero job growth during the George W. Bush administration.

For our children, it add up to more than a lost decade. It adds up to lost generations who will never catch up..

Parental unemployment has a demonstrable impact on student achievement. When parents suffer unemployment, parents' stress increases and they are more likely to discipline their children arbitrarily, leading to children themselves attending school in greater stress and less able to perform to the top of their ability.

When parents suffer unemployment, they are more likely to lose health insurance; their children are less likely to get routine and preventive health care, are more likely to suffer from untreated asthma, toothaches, and earaches, and uncorrected vision problems, all of which contribute to school absenteeism and less ability to perform in schools.

When parents suffer unemployment, they are more likely to lose their homes, or fall behind in rent, leading to more frequent moves and interrupted schooling for their children. When parents suffer unemployment, they are more likely to shift their youngest children from more expensive (and higher-quality) early childhood programs to less expensive (and lower-quality) programs.

Even children of employed parents are suffering from the weak labor market: 38 percent of families have suffered an erosion of wages, hours worked or benefits. Many have also lost health insurance in the last year. All of these adverse impacts of the recession disproportionately affect African-Americans, Hispanics and low-income families.

As Algernon Austin says, cutting to reduce the deficit isn’t what’s needed right now, to ensure a better future for our children.

The economic distress of families hurts children and undermines their future. Only by putting their parents to work in good jobs can we lay the foundation for a prosperous future for our children.

The president has presented a plan to create jobs that, however modest, puts the the nation on the path towards meaningful recovery. The heads of both the International Monetary Fund and the Congressional Budget Office have warned that deep cuts will only do further damage to the economy. But Republicans seem bent on inflicting an a brand of austerity threatens to do for us what it’s doing for Britain now.

George Osborne’s austerity programme will cut the living standards of Britain’s families by more than 10% over the next three years as those on the lowest incomes suffer most from the tax increases and spending cuts designed to reduce the budget deficit.

A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the UK’s leading experts on the public finances, concludes that the chancellor’s strategy will result in greater inequality and rising child poverty, throwing into reverse progress made in the final years of the last Labour government.

According to the IFS, the squeeze on living standards will be the result of earnings failing to keep pace with prices, as well as the tax and benefit changes announced by the government to tackle the UK’s record peacetime budget deficit.

..."Welfare cuts and tax rises will act to reduce household incomes, and those with the lowest incomes are clearly set to lose the most from these reforms as a percentage of income (with the important exception of those with the very highest incomes). This is likely to increase poverty, other things being equal, offsetting some of the falls in poverty over the past decade."

"Pain will be inflicted," they tell us.

At the Koch gathering, Christie preached an inspirational tone. "Everybody who’s here for this weekend is here because they know that the opportunity that was presented to us as Americans is one of the most special gifts that will ever, ever be given," he said. "We want that same thing for our children and for our grandchildren," he added. "And we’re here because we know that it is no longer a sure thing if it ever was....In fact, under this administration, it is at greater risk than it has been in my lifetime."

During the Q&A, one of the questioners wondered what Christie had learned in New Jersey that might be applied to the nation. His answer was direct: "This is not hard. We spend too much. We borrow too much. We tax too much. It is time to turn those three things around."

"Now, pain will be inflicted when we change that," he went on. "People are going to do with less. People who are used to having entitlement at a certain level will not have them at that level anymore. That’s the story." Christie cited Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s "courageous" and "thoughtful plan" to "fix those systems" by replacing Medicare with a voucher program.

Now, we know upon whom.

Bernie Sanders spelled it out in stark terms what it will cost us and our children.

When we talk about poverty in America, we think about people who may be living in substandard and overcrowded homes or may be homeless. We think about people who live with food insecurity, who may not know how they are going to feed themselves or their kids tomorrow. We think about people who, in cold states like Vermont, may not have enough money to purchase the fuel they need to keep warm in the winter. We think about people who cannot afford health insurance or access to medical care. We think about people who cannot afford an automobile or transportation, and can’t get to their job or the grocery store. We think about senior citizens who may have to make a choice between buying the prescription drugs he or she needs, or purchasing an adequate supply of food.

I want to focus on an enormously important point. And that is that poverty in America today leads not only to anxiety, unhappiness, discomfort and a lack of material goods. It leads to death. Poverty in America today is a death sentence for tens and tens of thousands of our people which is why the high childhood poverty rate in our country is such an outrage.

"So be it."

At the end of my post on Monday, I pondered the answer to a musical question.

After saying goodnight to our eldest son, I remembered of a lyric from "The River," Bruce Springsteen’s 31-year-old classic that sounds like it could have been written yesterday.

    Now those memories come back to haunt me,
    They haunt me like a curse.
    Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true.
    Or is it something worse?

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? Is it something worse?

I hope that we -- especially our children -- never have to find out.

I fear we may already be getting the answer.


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I just wanted to add that as the direction that this country seems to be going the wrong way, another result will be the "death" of our environment and our resources. And as that happens there will be fewer places to live that will be safe from invasive species, pollution, and things we can't even imagine now. "If we can't take care of our 'Mother' Earth, she will certainly not be able to take care of us."