Friday, September 16, 2011

Modern Day Vampires: Politicians & CEOs are Sucking the Life Out of America’s Children

Child Poverty in America
In 2011, you can’t scroll through the TV menu without seeing something to do with vampires or zombies. The living dead it seems are all the rage these days. True Blood, Twilight Saga, Vampire Diaries, Zombieland, The Walking Dead, and myriad other shows dominate both the small and silver screens. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good zombie movie as much as the next person, but lately I’m starting to see a disturbing pattern. It could be life imitating art, or maybe it’s the other way around. The image on the screen is an eerie reflection of what’s actually going on in our society. The clear message to young people since the millennium washed over them ten years ago is that there is a menacing presence out there ready to suck the living daylights out of you. My advice to kids: heed your basic instincts, the threat is real and they are going for your jugular!

I have always liked Jay Leno’s definition of “politics.” Just divide the word – “poli” meaning many and “tics” meaning blood suckers. Now you understand politics. The dual vampires of political gridlock and economic recession are sucking the life out of our children and our schools. During the first decade of the 21st century the children of America have been caught in the vice-like jaws of increasing poverty and decaying educational systems. Schools are being choked to death financially and child poverty is escalating to record levels not seen in over half a century.

I spent some time recently reflecting on how lives have changed for the so-called 9/11 Generation since that tragic day ten years ago when innocence was shattered and security threatened. A report released this week from the Census Bureau puts it into stark perspective. The 2010 economic numbers are in and the U. S. Census Bureau reports there are 46.2 million poor people in America – the largest number in the last 52 years. The data suggest that our children have been a primary casualty as our government waged war on terrorism and Wall Street waged war on the American middle class and poor families.
 Some startling statistics:
  • One in three of America’s poor are children
  • 22% of all children in the U.S. (over one in five) live in poverty (16.4 million children)
  • That’s almost one million more children than last year (over 950,000 kids)
  • 7.4 million children in America live in extreme poverty
  • More than one in three Black children and one in three Hispanic children are poor
  • Children under five years old are suffering the most: one-fourth (5.5 million) come from poverty households (defined as a family of four living on less than $22,000 per year)
It isn’t enough that these poor kids have to battle for their very survival each day, now the sanctuary they called “school” is no longer able to give them the shelter and hope they deserve. In California, we are desperately trying to maintain a 2011 program on a 2000 income level. The politicians and CEOs who pray at the anti-tax Prop. 13 shrine have been systematically draining the lifeblood from public education. The vampires have permanently recalibrated the economic and educational support system for an entire generation. The impact of inaction on behalf of children will resonate for decades to come. The 9/11 Generation has been hit by a pandemic of poverty. We are already seeing the casualties. They will not do as well in school, will have more health and social problems, and will be permanently under-employed.

One of my heroes is Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. Her life’s work to “Leave No Child Behind” was a passionate call-to-arms long before No Child Left Behind was a glimmer in the government’s eye. In looking at the Census numbers she captures the sense of outrage we should all share. “Shamefully, children are the poorest age group in our country, are getting poorer, and have suffered more than any other age group during this recession and slow recovery. A country that does not stand for and protect its children—our seed corn for the future—does not stand for anything . . . This is a national disgrace.”

People often say that children are our future. I disagree. We are their future by the actions we take and the decisions we make. Children don’t have a voice and they don’t have a vote. They rely on adults to do the right thing. As a society we must get past political gridlock for the sake of our kids. We owe it to the 9/11 Generation to fix our economy, fix our schools, and fix our politics. It’s about time we insisted that our business and political leaders start acting like the grown-ups in the room and learn to “play well with others.” Adults have mortgaged their future and children are paying the price. We need to stop sucking the lifeblood out of our kids.

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