Child poverty and the country's future

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. -promoted by Laura Belin

Possibly the most important five minutes of the eight Democratic presidential debates happened when candidates answered the last question–on child poverty–in the recent New Hampshire debate.

It was not that the candidates differed in their approaches, but they all saw this as a critical issue and provided important reflections on what is at the heart of a fundamental challenge to American prosperity — the future of our diverse next generation.

First Focus has done a valuable service by putting the clip on You Tube.

My website, Child Equity, provides the transcript of how candidates answered this question at the New Hampshire debate. You can also find comments on the same topic from some of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio), underscoring the importance of a dialogue on this issue across parties.

I feel that raising awareness about child poverty can be a game changer for electing progressive and compassionate people to public office. I also think getting these issues before the public is absolutely essential to hold all candidates and office holders more accountable on addressing the problem.


(This transcript can be downloaded as a Word document from Child Equity.)

George Stephanopoulos. Time now for a final question. Each of you will answer it in turn. The question is this. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, it’s been more than 20 years since child poverty was directly addressed in a presidential debate. The year was 1999 the question was our friend and former colleague may be watching right now, the late Cokie Roberts.

She asked the candidates in this Republican debate, how will we overcome the scandal of one quarter of American preschoolers living in poverty in the richest nation on earth? Today, nearly one in five American preschoolers are still living below the poverty line, even though we’ve had 10 straight years of economic growth. What does that say to you about where America is today and what we need to do about it?

Andrew Yang. George, we’re in the midst of the most extreme winner take all economy in the history of our country, and unfortunately, that extremity is just going to reach unprecedented heights as technology is getting stronger, smarter, more capable all the time, and most of us are not. Most adults feel happy if we stayed about the same on any given day. So if we want to alleviate child poverty, we need to put money directly into the hands of families, particularly single parents, 40% of American children today are born to single moms, 90% of single parents are single moms and right now we have fallen into this trap where we have allowed the market to tell us what we are all worth.

What is the market value my wife, Evelyn had, or stay at home parents around the country? Zero. Caregivers taking care of ailing loved ones, like Kyle Christensen in Iowa? Zero. Volunteers and activists in our communities trying to do something positive? Zero. Coaches and mentors helping our kids? Zero. Most artists, sorry artists, but it’s true. Zero. Increasingly local journalists, which is wiping out our ability to have a functioning democracy because you can’t vote on something if you actually don’t have any news coverage. The mission in this campaign has to be for us to disentangle economic value and human value, say they are not the same things and make this case to our fellow Americans. That we each have intrinsic value as citizens, as human beings and as owners and shareholders of the richest country in the history of the world.

Pete Buttigieg. The problem is, America’s been counting the wrong things. Now we have a president who says the economy is fantastic because the Dow Jones is looking good. I’m sure if you’ve got a building with your name on it close to Wall Street, then that really is the same thing as the economy to you. But the problem is, we’ve had an economy grow and not be able to lift up those most in need, or even so many in the middle.

When I’m president, we’re going to measure the performance of our economy, not by the Dow Jones but by the income growth of the 90%, because a good economy is one where children are being lifted out of poverty. Just as we focused in South B on cutting the poverty rate, in particular, the black poverty rate and making sure families with children were participating in the growth that we did have. This is one more example of something where the American people want to see change. The American people, not just die hard Democrats, but so many Independents and some Republicans, think we need to prioritize economic equity and yet it still doesn’t happen. That is why we need to recognize that the time has arrived for a different kind of politics. To turn the page, leave the politics of the past in the past and deliver a better future before it is too late.

Elizabeth Warren. So I started my grownup life as a special education teacher. I learned early on about the worth of every single human being, and I believe that the best investment we can make as a nation, the best investment we can make as human beings, is to invest in our children. We’ve had enough of making rhetoric around this. Everyone says they love the kids, but here’s the deal. It’s time to come up with real plans to make that happen. I’ve talked before about a two cent wealth tax, but the whole idea behind it is we can do early childhood education and good quality child care, universal pre-K for every three year old and four year old in America, and we can stop exploiting the people, largely black and brown women who do this work and raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America.

We want to have a real future in this country, then invest in our children. Don’t leave public education just to our localities in our states. Be a good federal partner. Put real money into our schools, put real money into housing, put real money into into healthcare. Put real money into the future of our children. That’s how we build the America of our best values.

Joe Biden. I come from a family where our dad walked in one day and said, we’ve got to move. Don’t have a job. We’ve got to move to a different city. I watched my dad and I met many people here in this state and others, who go through the same thing where the father’s made that longest walk or the mother’s made that longest walk. I was listed for the entire time I was in the United States Congress as the poorest man in the United States Congress. My net worth was net zero a couple of times. The fact of the matter is that I’ve never focused on money for me and I was a single dad for five years. It’s not as hard as being a single mom and I had help from my sisters in the audience and others, but the fact is that I think we have to focus on what is at stake here.

These aren’t someone else’s children. They’re all our children. They’re the kite strings that lift our national ambitions, they really are. They lift our national ambitions aloft. We have an overwhelming interest, overwhelming interest in seeing to it they do well. You know, 24 out of every 100 students in school today, from grade school to high school, are Latino. What are we going to do? Walk away from that?

Many of them come from homes that are poor, very poor. That’s why I invest so much time and energy in preschool. That’s why if I only have $1 to spend, I spend it equipping the child before they get into school in the early day, than after and we talk about all those kids out there that are going to be graduating. A great number of them, as Mr. Yang said, aren’t going on to college, although I think we should help with college. They’re not going on to college. What they’re going to do, they’re going to be equipped to compete in the 21st century by training them for the new trades, the new opportunities, the new capabilities that are out there. We must focus on our children. Like I said, they’re all our children, they’re not somebody else’s kids. Everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone, as my father would say, is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and we’re not doing it.

Bernie Sanders. Well, the answer to your question of why we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth, disproportionately high for the African American community, by the way, is the same reason that we give massive trillion dollar tax breaks to the rich and large corporations. Same reason that we give tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, while half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. The same reason that we have three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of America.

The same reason that we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a human right. Same reason as to why we are paying in some cases 10 times more than other countries for prescription drugs, and that reason is that our priorities are determined by the 1% and by wealthy campaign contributors. Our priorities are determined by those who want to see the rich get richer and are turning their backs on the working families of this country. What is unique about our campaign, is we say, unashamedly, we are raising our campaign contributions, not from billionaires but from working class people. That our campaign is about the working families of this country for the working class of this country and that is the administration that we will run. It is time to take on the big money interests. It is time to change our national priorities. Thank you.

Amy Klobuchar. In Cokie’s memory, let me answer this question. We may have lost an election in 2016, Democrats, but we did not lose hope. And there is a way, it’s actually based on a National Academy of Science report and I’ve used that to put together a plan to reduce child poverty in half in 10 years and eradicate it in a generation. We can do it with investment in childcare. We can do it with investment in preschool and school and we can do it with tax credits and we can get it done. But to get it done, we have to be able to reach those voters that we lost in this state and across the country.

There’s an old story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and when he died, his body was put on a train and went up across America and there was a guy standing by those tracks along with so many Americans, and he had his hat on his chest and he was sobbing and a reporter said, Sir, did you know the president? And the guy says, no, I didn’t know the president, but he knew me. He knew me. I will tell you this, there is a complete lack of empathy in this guy in the White House right now. I will bring that to you.

If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent. I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your childcare or your longterm care, I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble figuring out if you’re going to fill your refrigerator or fill your prescription drug, I know you and I will fight for you. I do not have the biggest name up on this stage. I don’t have the biggest bank account. I’m not a political newcomer with no record, but I have a record of fighting for people. I’m asking you to join I’m asking you to believe that someone who totally believes in America can win this because if you are tired of the extremes in our politics and the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me, Please, New Hampshire, I would love your vote and I would love the vote of America. Thank you.

Tom Steyer. The Republicans have a cruel plan and their plan is pretty simple. It’s to cut taxes on the richest Americans and the biggest corporations and then they pay for it by cutting education for kids, by cutting healthcare across the board, by allowing corporations to pollute as much as they want, and then they try and break unions and the organized labor movement. It’s very simple. That’s what Mr. Trump’s plan is and it’s true in every single red state, but we are not going to win by just criticizing Mr. Trump. I know that there is a better America out there and that America lives in our hearts and minds. And that America understands that when a kid succeeds in Columbia, South Carolina, that is a triumph for every American. And the same is true of a kid in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Trump has no idea what prosperity looks like across this country. It’s not just that he does bad things. He doesn’t understand that investing in education and healthcare and good union jobs is actually an investment in our common humanity and in growth in the future, mobility and justice. That is the America that lives in our hearts and minds that will beat Mr. Trump, because he will never be able to imagine it. So in fact, what we need to do is have a new conception, a new dream of America, dream it and make it happen. Imagine the mountain and then we climb it together. We are in perilous times. I am asking for your vote. Let’s rise together.

Top graphic on child poverty courtesy of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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