By Marian Wright Edelman
“We’ve had 20 years of presidential debates, and we have never talked about the violence in America of child poverty. We have got to begin to talk more eloquently and persuasively and urgently about doing the things not just to make sure fair taxes are paid by people on the top, but that we deal with the moral obscenity of having the highest levels of child poverty in the industrial world.”
– Senator Cory Booker, October 15 Democratic presidential debate
The Children’s Defense Fund has been standing with 18-year-old Beat the Odds® scholar Israel Glenn in calling for a presidential debate question about child poverty. It’s been 20 years since presidential candidates have been asked in a debate how they would solve this urgent crisis. Israel started an online petition demanding this question be asked because he doesn’t want another generation of children to experience the burdens of hunger, homelessness, and instability he did. More than 30,000 people and five presidential candidates have joined him and during the last presidential debate Senator Cory Booker spoke up to agree. The fact that the United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world is a moral obscenity and profound threat to America’s future. It’s time to ask all those running for president and public office at every level what steps they will take to end it.
Senator Booker’s plan for “Ending Child Poverty in America and Creating Opportunity for All” would expand the Child Tax Credit; create a “child allowance” for families with children; strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps); provide universal free school lunch to help eliminate child hunger; reform Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to help more children and families escape poverty; and tackle child and family homelessness. It also would ensure jobs pay enough to keep families out of poverty and expand affordable child care for working families.
Senator Booker says: “Eliminating poverty isn’t just a moral calling; we all lose when not everyone can participate in our economic growth. Our children will be the leaders of the future, and the workforce powering the global economy. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that child poverty costs us as much $1 trillion each year — or 5.4 percent of GDP — driven by higher crime rates, worse health outcomes, and lower earnings among poor kids after becoming adults. Every dollar spent today combating child poverty saves us $7 down the road.”
Senator Booker isn’t the only candidate seeking to solve this moral and economic crisis. Senator Kamala Harris’ “Children’s Agenda” would issue an Executive Order to End Child Poverty and establish a Federal Interagency Working Group to coordinate federal action as part of a plan to cut child poverty 50 percent in her first term. She too would protect and strengthen existing safety net programs, provide middle class and working families a tax credit to address the rising cost of living, and fight to close the pay gap to cut poverty for children with working mothers. Several other candidates have plans to tackle pieces of the child poverty crisis by raising the minimum wage, making child care more affordable, and more. Many of their proposals are similar to those outlined in CDF’s Ending Child Poverty Now report. We are waiting to hear every presidential candidate’s plan for ending child poverty.
After the last debate, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof cheered Senator Booker’s mention of child poverty onstage, saying, “Those kids can’t vote, so they need us to vote on their behalf. Bravo!” We must continue speaking up for children in this election and putting the issues that impact them front and center. Let’s all keep talking about child poverty and demanding urgent action because children only have one childhood and it is right now.
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.