It’s really tough to be a kid in America today.
Too many of our young people and their families face difficult circumstances, among them soaring health care and prescription drug costs, tainted water and air, a lack of access to good quality and affordable child care, a housing shortage, and barriers to higher education. Children remain the poorest age group in America. Young children are especially vulnerable, and the poverty rate is highest among children of color.
We’re not doing enough to prepare our young people to take on the challenges of an uncertain future, one marked by the threats of climate change and technological disruption. And these challenges affect children to the greatest degree and for the longest period of time.
But Americans of all ages are sensing that something is wrong—wrong about the way children and families are being treated and wrong about our national priorities that have gone astray.
And in the next election, we have the chance to change course.
As last week’s Democratic presidential debate made crystal clear, there’s a lot at stake in the next election. This election is a vital opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for the well-being of the country’s children now and into the future—their future and ours.
In American history, there’s a great tradition of voters pushing lawmakers to prioritize children.
At the turn of the 20th century, voters leveraged legislators’ fear of being “punished at the polls” to ensure federal support for public health measures that greatly improved life expectancy for U.S. children. Later, the election of 1932 ushered in an administration that passed not only the landmark Social Security Act of 1935 but also laws related to maternity care, child-labor, education, and day care. Recent administrations supported funding for schools with high numbers of children in poverty, launched Head Start, and backed the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among endorsing other high-impact laws.
We need to again cast our vote with our children front of mind. History shows that when we fail to elect people who care about children and families, essential programs and protections for kids—like child care and health care—are weakened and even eliminated. And nobody picks up the mantle of legislation that helps all families, like environmental stewardship or gun reform.
Indeed, our vote is the most powerful tool we have to hold policymakers accountable to kids—and keep a kid-friendly agenda at the fore.
The good news is as American voters realize that we are shortchanging our kids, change is underway in many states and in a bipartisan way. Across states, preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, support for safe and affordable child care, maternal health protections, and other important legislation to help children and families are becoming law.
Now it is time to act on this momentum and bring it to our national government.
In 2020, we must elect leaders who will attend to the nation’s children, re-focus our country on our common future, and bring Americans back together. First, our elected leaders must establish that policy and budget decisions do no harm to children and families. Second, they must ensure that these decisions actually advance their well-being.
We can do this. You can do this. Here are steps you can take both in your state and nationally as well as quick ways to connect to others working for kids.
1. Become an advocate for kids and families with candidates. To get started, take a look at 20/20 Vision for Children’s Guide for Child Advocates or check out Alliance for Justice’s step-by-step guidance on what’s legal and what’s not. For more ideas, Kids Impact Initiative has compiled a set of resources to help you.
2. Register voters and help get them to the polls. If you don’t vote, you can’t help the nation’s children. Young people and busy parents are likely to care about kids, but they may not register and vote. You can help get new voters registered and get registered voters to the polls or to vote absentee.
3. Actively help candidates who make children a priority. During elections, candidates really care about each voter. Each one of us can get involved in elections: Show up with friends at events for child-friendly candidates, spread the word on social media about why you support a candidate, and, if you can, write a check to the campaign.
Today’s children will inherit the country we design and fight for now. Voters, we better get busy.