Children’s Defense Fund

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

These words are from President Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address given Jan. 20, 1937. The president was speaking to a nation crawling out of the Great Depression. Progress had been made, but President Roosevelt knew this great nation was still capable of so much more. Below is what preceded that passage:

“Here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children. …

But it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous.”

We are facing another test of our moral progress today – and we are failing. U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2017, released this week, show nearly 1 in 5 children in America still lives in poverty, making them the poorest age group in our country. Almost one-third of the 39.7 million poor people in the United States are children. While the data shows a slight reduction in child poverty in 2017 compared to 2016, the number of poor children – 12.8 million or 17.5 percent of all children – remains indecently high. And though unemployment numbers continue to fall, these gains have not kept families and children out of poverty. More than 70 percent of poor children come from working families that often face low and stagnant wages.

The fact that nearly 1 in 5 children in America lives in poverty is not only morally and practically unacceptable but also economically costly. The evidence that our youngest children are the poorest during their years of greatest brain development is a shameful indictment of our values and our common sense.

More than 1 in 5 children under six are poor in 20 states and the District of Columbia. More than two-thirds of poor children are children of color. Only five states have Black child poverty rates under 20 percent.

How shockingly wrong-headed, immoral and costly it is that as they learn 12.8 million children are struggling to grow up in poverty, the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress propose to throw money at millionaires and billionaires over babies. In 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gave massive tax cuts to billionaires, millionaires and powerful corporations at the expense of the majority of taxpayers and children and at a cost of $1.9 trillion over the next 11 years. To fill this huge deficit, the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress have threatened cuts to critical investments in child health, nutrition, housing and education.

This very week, House Republicans introduced their Tax Plan 2.0 that would again reward the wealthy and continue to increase already indefensible inequality. If enacted, it would permanently extend the 2017 tax law’s individual provisions – slated to expire after 2025 – that benefit the top 1 percent of households twice as much as those in the bottom 60 percent.

Initial estimates indicate Tax Plan 2.0 would add around $3 trillion more to the originally projected $1.9 trillion deficit in the first 10 years after the individual provisions become permanent. And with significantly higher projected deficits, the threat remains that the Trump White House will continue to propose debilitating cuts in order to pay for huge tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals. Has our nation completely lost all sense of decency and justice?

Babies’ survival needs should trump billionaires’ and millionaires’ greed. Our children’s present and future lives are too valuable to let these profoundly unjust practices continue. This new Tax Plan 2.0 and any additional cuts to key survival programs must be rejected. Every single person in America needs to speak out and mount a campaign to end child poverty now.

How will we test our progress today? Will our president continue to ignore the 12.8 million poor children and their families? Will congressional leaders stand up for those who have too little, or will they join the frenzied Republican leadership’s attempts to give more permanent tax breaks to those who have too much?

The recent Census Bureau report shows how key investments can help end child and family poverty. We must provide jobs and decent wages and support investments in the basic needs of children and families. Supplemental Poverty Measure data expands on the Official Poverty Measure by including the impact of some government and other programs on family resources. It shows that in 2017, millions of children were lifted above the poverty line by the Earned Income Tax Credit (4.5 million) and other refundable credits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (1.5 million), the National School Lunch Program (722,000), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (156,000), housing subsidies (897,000), the Supplemental Security Income Program (472,000), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and general assistance (296,000).

No child in our nation should live in poverty. Shielding children from the lifelong consequences of poverty will improve their lives now and reduce future child poverty. We have all the resources and know how to end child poverty and cannot wait. The future of our children and our nation depends on acting right now.

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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