By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Children’s Defense Fund
In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about Dr. Kirtley Mather’s 1944 book Enough and to Spare. King said the book set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”
Compare that book’s title to this one: Too Much and Never Enough, Mary Trump’s bestseller about her uncle Donald Trump. Too much and never enough also describes the pervasive attitude and policies that continued to allow the wealthiest people and corporations in our nation to profit during the Trump Administration even in the middle of the pandemic. The growing gulf between the rich and the poor and middle class in American society is absolutely disgraceful. The question is the same: why?
Something is awry in our nation when just three of the richest men in America hold more of our nation’s wealth than the bottom half of our population of 331 million people; when the members of the Forbes 400 own more wealth than the bottom 64% of our nation combined; and when the gap between rich and poor has widened to an historic level not seen since the 1920s. Since 2010, the number of American billionaires has doubled, while the number of poor children has remained shamefully and stubbornly high. Just since the pandemic began, billionaire wealth has grown $845 billion while more than half of all households with children have lost income, 17 million children have gone hungry, and 2.5 million more children have become poor. What standards of justice and common decency does this reflect? I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their first, second or third million or billion if there were no poor children, no homeless children and no hungry children. But I also believe there should be some concept of enough – both for those at the top and those at the bottom.
Every American family should have a decent safety net. Everyone must be able to live in safe communities with affordable housing. There should be enough income, food, shelter, health care, and child care to protect every child. And I don’t want to hear anybody tell us we don’t have the money to do it, even during periods of economic downturn. We could lift 5.5 million children out of poverty for less than eight months’ worth of President Trump’s tax breaks for the top 1% of millionaires and billionaires. And while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues claimed they couldn’t find the money to expand tax credits and food stamps for struggling families in the last COVID relief package passed in March, they found $195 billion for corporate tax giveaways. Our nation surely has enough and to spare. We don’t have a money problem in America – we have a profound values and priorities problem.
We must all begin to work to curb the rampant greed of those at the top so that the survival needs of those at the bottom may be met. The message each of us must understand and try to hammer home is that the number one threat to American security and competitiveness in the 21st century is no enemy without; it is the enemy within. It is the neglect and abandonment of our shrinking pool of children from which our future workforce, military, and leaders must come. It is long past time to do what is right for children and do what is essential to save our standard of living and quality of life. The poorest, Blackest, Brownest child is as inextricably important to the American future as the Whitest and most privileged ones. If we are to recapture our competitive edge and restore some luster to the American Dream, we must enable all of our children to achieve.
During these perilous pandemic times, America can and must turn economic downturn into an opportunity to step forward to correct the gross imbalance of government subsidization of the rich and provide a safety net for all children to protect them from growing hunger, homelessness, and stress. We must correct the laissez-faire federal policies that enabled the few to run roughshod over the life savings of many hardworking Americans and wreck the lives and dreams of millions of children. We must make it un-American in the 2020s for any child to grow up poor, without health care or without child care. We must redefine enough.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is “Leave No Child Behind.” For more information, visit https://www.childrensdefense.org.