Sunday, October 21, 2012

Putting Kids...Last? Cutbacks and the Fate of the Young

One thing the presidential candidates agree on: Our children and grandchildren will have to pay for our budget deficits. But in an excellent article that Democrats, Republicans, independents, and everyone else should read, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times says the problem goes beyond just budget deficits. Read "Cutbacks and the Fate of the Young."
"Right now," Porter writes, "the next generation is getting shortchanged all around, with children too often treated as an afterthought in policies meant to appeal to their elders." The United States has the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world, but federal spending on children is actually going down. From education to child nutrition to Medicaid, the CBO projects that spending fell 1 percent last year and will fall another 4 percent this year. And that's without the types of cuts that would likely result from the budget proposals that Governor Romney and especially Rep. Ryan have called for. State and local spending for children is also falling.
Porter points out other concerns -- intolerable rates of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and illiteracy. He writes, "Unsurprisingly, perhaps, half of American children born to low-income parents grow up to be low-income adultsInvesting in children is not just a matter of fairness but of economic vitality. Early interventions to help disadvantaged children can have an enormous return. They improve children’s cognitive and social abilities. They promote healthy behavior. They increase productivity and reduce crime. Investing in education is about as good an investment as a society can make."
But these are not the priorities they should be, Porter argues. In fact, "If Mr. Romney becomes the next president and delivers on his promise to cap federal spending at 20 percent of the nation’s economic product while increasing the defense budget, programs for youth are bound to shrink" even more. "According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Mr. Romney spared those 55 and over from any changes to Medicare or Social Security, as his campaign has promised, spending on everything else would have to be cut by more than $6 trillion from 2014 to 2022....A repeal of health care reform would drastically reduce health benefits. The budget for Medicaid, which is the biggest federal program serving children, would be cut by almost $2 trillion over 10 years."
But in typical fashion for political candidates, both Obama and Romney are appealing to seniors (who vote) and not children (who do not vote). Rest assured, they tell seniors, Social Security and Medicare are safe for you. But, as Porter points out, "The generation whose taxes will be footing the bill in 2037 doesn’t get the same type of commitment."
The Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution is going so far as to suggest that seniors should shoulder more of the burden to invest in children. "The old are living longer and collecting more benefits than before," Porter writes. "Even under new measures of poverty that account for seniors’ high medical spending, poverty rates among children have surpassed deprivation among the old. Seniors, [the center] suggests, could shoulder more costs so that more of the money from working Americans could be devoted to the young."
Porter concludes, "If the next generation is going to be handed the bill for our budget deficits, we might as well make the investments needed to help it bear the burden. So far, we seem on track to bequeath our children a double whammy: a mountain of debt and substantial program cuts that will undermine their ability to shoulder it when their time comes."
I strongly recommend reading the whole article.

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