Recently the Children’s Defense Fund released the State of America’s Children © 2010. This annual report is eagerly anticipated by many advocates as it gives a factual account of everyday life for the underrepresented children across our country. This report provides information that should make us collectively hang our heads in shame and then mount a campaign that will not stop until we see dramatic improvement in national and state policies for young children. Consider the following:
- Between 2002 and 2007, income of the wealthiest one percent of U.S. households grew more than 10 times as fast as income of the bottom 90 percent.
- The income share for the wealthiest 10 percent of households was the highest ever recorded.
- A record high 39.7 million people – about half of them children – received food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in February 2010.
- In 2008, as the recession was just beginning, 14.1 million children were poor, an increase of 2.5 million children (1.6 million of them in extreme poverty) since 2000.
- More than 5.6 million children are in families living at half the poverty level or less.
- Nearly 70 percent of poor children live in families where at least one family member works.
- Close to 20 percent of grandparents raising children live in poverty.
This information is just the tip of an enormous upside down waffle cone in a Baskin Robbins container covered with pretty sprinkles and whipped cream. What we don’t yet know is the full impact of the recession on families as it appears to be prolonged and deeper than once thought and we certainly we have no sense of how the Gulf oil spill is going to break the backs of families who were just beginning to see a brighter economic day after Hurricane Katrina. What we do know is that we cannot be fooled by the sparkles of big talk during election campaigns with only air like that in whipped cream to back up the promises. Advocates have their work cut out for them, but action steps can be taken:
- Challenge candidates about the state of children in your state or community. Do your homework and be ready, become the “expert” and push for an answer. If they have none offer to help them develop a position.
- Build coalitions that will spread the word and the share the heavy lifting. Being a successful advocate means being a team player.
- Talk to program managers and field workers about the real situations facing families. They can put faces on data and help to build a campaign about neighbors, not numbers.
Use this has a starting point to get engaged and make it your business to speak for children. If you don’t who will?
Cathy Grace, Ed.D.Director, Early Childhood Policy, Children’s Defense Fund