image001The question. What do you think of people who allow children to be punished for the accident of their birth? I ask myself that question, and I do it while looking into a mirror. And I don’t like the answer I get. You see, I am a citizen of a country that punishes children who, through no fault of their own, are born into low-income families.

This is the punishment for their misfortune. American children of low income parents have the smallest chance of escaping poverty in growing to adulthood of all industrial nations. By failing to be able to read by their third grade, kids experience humiliation and only rarely manage to recover and catch up to their peers.

Studies show that children who can read by the 3rd grade are seldom ever involved with the criminal justice system. On the contrary, four of five incarcerated juvenile offenders read two years or more below grade and the majority are functionally illiterate.

This horrible truth puts a dagger through the heart of America’s most fundamental self-described exceptionalism. The belief that we are world champions of equal opportunity is false. It is a myth. It is a cruel reality to millions of our littlest citizens.

This crushed pillar of national pride is revealed in a half dozen studies of social mobility reported in recent years. They have come from researchers in Germany, Great Britain, Canada and more recently the Pew Charitable Trust and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They are all slightly different, but all have the same conclusion. This sad fact is most recently revealed in Time magazine’s March 14 cover story “Yes, America Is In Decline”.

“Yet several studies, the most recent from the OECD last year, have found that the average American has a much lower chance of moving out of his parents income bracket than people do in places like Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Canada.”

So when conservatives blast liberals for supporting wealth re-distribution, they are ignoring the absence of fairness in how America’s wealth is distributed today. It isn’t fair at all. And liberals who argue that taxes on the rich are unfairly low, neglect the best argument of all. Income does not need to be equally distributed. What is needed are public policies that provide all kids a healthy start in life and a reasonably equal chance at prosperity. That is the equal opportunity environment that all other industrial nations seek and that they all support in varying degrees.

Ironically, the science of brain development that other societies use to convince taxpayers to support equal opportunity policies is a product of researchers here in American universities. We have some of the world’s best and they all show that healthy prenatal care and the first years of life are the most important for brain development. The only problem is our American policy makers have ignored this locally produced research.

And this is the high risk adventure America has embarked on. The single most important determinant or a nation’s success is the strength of its human capital. By squandering the lives of millions of children raised in low income families, America is creating a self fulfilling prophecy. Yes, America is in decline and it is our own fault.

Why is one of every four prison inmates in the world incarcerated here? Does it have anything to do with kids left without support in poor families, and then when they fall behind in school, and later drop out they conclude they never had a chance at the winning cards? Their mother didn’t get prenatal care, something all other modern countries apply universally. Their moms and dads didn’t get to stay home with them in their first year, like that available in all other countries, then they never could go to nursery schools and other pre-kindergarten places. And when they did get to the 3rd grade, they couldn’t read.

Conservatives and liberals, did you know that a woman experiencing childbirth has a greater chance of dying here than in 49 other countries. That includes all other industrial countries plus places like Cuba? Isn’t that something to be ashamed of? Equally shameful is the fact that we don’t know how to keep babies alive in the first year of life-our terrible infant mortality proves it.

Here is what other countries do routinely to ensure reproductive health and to guarantee that all children have a good chance to succeed.

* income of full-time employment provides families above poverty living standard.

* universal housing for all families with children.

* universal health care.

* paid maternity and parental leave for both parents with guarantee of return to the previous job.

* women’s guaranteed right to breastfeed at work.

* universal pre-school child care and development.

* guaranteed sick leave for illness and family care.

* minimum of 5 to 6 weeks of paid vacation.

* taxpayer paid college tuition for qualifying students.

* protection of children from predatory marketing by consumer product companies.

None of these programs exist in the United States. That is why it is accurate to describe our country as a mamouth incubator for prison inmates. And that is why the US is in 30th place in government tax revenue as % to GDP. We are easily the lowest taxed country of the developed world.

Yes conservatives and liberals, Americans should pay more taxes and the top 10% of us who have amassed nearly all the growth in wealth in the past three decades should pay the most. And the reason isn’t to “redistribute wealth”, it is to begin living up to our words we so often pay homage to, that all Americans have the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Those who have prospered the most have the most at stake to correct this injustice.

This isn’t even paper airplane science. It is common sense. You don’t let children play with guns or drive cars. And you don’t punish them for poverty they are born into through no fault of their own.

I don’t think much of people like me, and conservative and liberals and people in the middle, who punish kids for their misfortune of birth, which means America is not fair.

It’s time we stop it. If we don’t, the words of Pliny the elder will be our fate. “What we do to our children, they will do to society.”

Reprinted from
Strand tidings and view 3.22.11
By David Strand,

Aitkin Age Newspaper Aitkin, Minnesota