By Sheila Hansen and Mike Crawford
The annual the national Kids Count report provides information about the well-being of children across the country and within each state. The major thrust of this year’s report is the increase in poverty rates among children and the persistence of poverty among children specifically.
One in five children in America currently lives in poverty, and one in four young children (0-5) does so.
The report notes that even temporary poverty can have long-term adverse impacts on child health, safety, education and development — and persistent poverty represents a severe threat to children’s overall development. Further, the United States’ child poverty rate is more than double that of most other industrialized countries in the world — also our nation’s major trading partners and competitors.
The Kids Count report also describes improvements in child health insurance coverage and on some measures of educational achievement, although, again, the United States lags behind other industrialized countries. For instance, the improvement in child health coverage still leaves 8 million children uninsured — the gains that have been made largely are the result of expanding child health coverage as a state-federal partnership through public financing of Medicaid and CHIP.
There are not simple answers or solutions to addressing the concerns raised by the troubling condition of too many children in this country. Many U.S. children continue to excel, and these three indicators of well-being — poverty, health coverage, and educational proficiency — focus upon those who fall below a minimum level of security and opportunity.
What is clear, however, is that America’s future prosperity will be dependent upon raising a next generation that is healthy, highly educated, and ready to compete and lead in a world economy. What also is clear is that the public believes the president, Congress, governors, state lawmakers, and other elected officials have an obligation to respond to these trends and concerns.
Every four years, the United States elects a president — and at their best, these presidential campaigns set a future vision and direction for the United States. This occurs when voters and the media demand that candidates speak to their vision on important issues. Issues related to child poverty, health, and education are not the only issues that deserve attention, but they should be part of this important election dialogue and debate.
The Kids Count report raises three important questions that all candidates for federal and state office should address:
l What will you do to reduce child poverty and/or ensure that children in poverty have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed?
l What will you do to ensure that all children have access to the health care they need to ensure their healthy development?
l What will you do to ensure all children have the educational experiences and opportunities to enable them to succeed?
Candidates may have different views on how to achieve these goals. Our democracy rests on candidates presenting such views and vision and then having voters weigh these in making their voting decisions. Public dialogue is a step to getting to a national commitment to ensure action. Candidates themselves can take the lead in raising children’s issues and developing and presenting their own policy decisions.
Iowa congressional candidates have an opportunity to lead nationally by devoting at least part of their campaign activities to spelling out their vision for addressing the needs of Iowa’s children. If this can occur, the election in Iowa can get above the noise of the 30-second political advertisements that already are pounding the airwaves.
The Children’s Policy Coalition of 30 Iowa organizations is promoting such dialogues in this election year.
Sheila Hansen is director, Every Child Counts, and Mike Crawford is director, Kids Count, at the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines, online at www.cfpciowa.org. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org