Just Cause for Great Alarm
Must taxes cover the cost of raising kids?
We trim and append this 2009 interview from Miller-McCune, posted there Feb 20. Marian Wright Edelman, a lawyer and founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, was counsel for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign shortly before his death.
by Marian Wright Edelman, interviewed by Julia GriffinIn the US, 1 in 6 children lives in poverty, and nearly 9 million lack proper medical insurance. Over 13 million children are poor today compared to 11 million when Dr. King died, and 5.8 million children live in extreme poverty.
Of all the world's industrialized nations, the United States is first in military expenditures and military exports, in millionaires and billionaires, has the largest gap between rich and poor, and highest number of incarcerations (and, this editor notes, probably the greatest ethnic diversity).
But we are way down in the 20s -- behind many less-wealthy industrial nations -- in infant mortality and child poverty. Lagging behind our competitor nations in childcare will be the cause of our economic demise.
Our prison system is a larger employer than General Motors or Wal-Mart. We're spending ($60 billion to $70 billion) a year on it; states spend three times more per prisoner than school pupil. We've got over 80% of our black and Hispanic children not reading at grade level. Itís tragic the sacrifice that parents made in the civil rights movement so their children could have better lives.
In this economic downturn the face of poverty has become working people. People, most of them were playing by the rules, are losing their homes and their jobs. Now 1 million to 2 million new children have fallen into poverty. You see downward mobility. That's children of all colors -- but children who are minority and poor are really moving backwards.
While we give relief for the people who caused this -- because otherwise that would jeopardize everything and you've got to get things flowing again -- we need to be setting up a safety net for the people who are the victims . And deal with unacceptable levels of poverty.
JJS: Almost everybody caused this, since the vast majority want to cash in their property, rather pay land dues. Itís widespread speculation that caused this exaggeration of the downturn. But slowdowns are natural, just like winter or sleep, and have to happen. Perpetual growth does not have to happen. What's needed is an income supplement so that we can cruise through the naturally sluggish periods.
The poor need jobs with decent wages. But we've also got to prevent the cycle of poverty and that means preparing the next generation of children through good health care, early child care education, and decent schools where a majority of children learn how to read and compute. (Just a majority? this editor wonders.)
The new State Children's Health Insurance Plan law that President Obama signed is unfinished business. We worked on CHIP very hard 11 years ago. It will, over a few years, add another 4 million, but it leaves 5 (million) of the 9 million children out. Many states are dealing with the economic downturn by cutting back on CHIP.
Our bill H.R. 747 is the All Healthy Children's Act. All children and all pregnant women need coverage. Some children are born with two or three strikes against them; prenatal care needs to be automatic and required.
The Children's Defense Fund recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. Iíd hope that we would be out of business after 35 years. It never occurred to me it would be so hard to get the richest nation on Earth to take care of its children preventively. It saves money, and it saves lives.
We don't have a money problem; we have a values problem. I hope the energy in Obamaís campaign can now be transferred into lobbying for children. People can do a lot one-to-one. We as citizens need to speak up to ensure that every child can succeed, so later they can get a good job and be able to support their families.
JJS: Itís always jobs, never start oneís own business. Demanding only jobs for others assumes that's all they can do. And the employment relationship -- inherently lopsided -- helps maintain inequality.
Jobs are not the solution, especially as automation gobbles them up. Nor is redistribution of earnings from rich to poor. Nor are programs top-heavy with bureaucracy.
What would work is predistribution -- recovering and sharing the commonwealth before an elite or state has a chance to misspend it. That -- plus de-taxing wages, sales, and buildings -- is the policy of geonomics.
It lets wages rise and the workweek shrink. It lets companies hire more people and more people start companies. It makes the economy serve humanity instead of the other way around.
Since children are helpless, of course adults must not make them suffer. But to do that, adults must use their brains and see beyond the knee-jerk responses to what really works.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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