The Nation’s Priorities and Children: How Well Do They Go Together?

On Friday, October 28, the Urban Institute hosted “The Nation’s Priorities and Children: How Well Do They Go Together.”  The event brought together a panel of Urban Institute scholars from various disciplines to discuss what it will take to come to national and state budget decisions that invest at the level needed for the youngest generations to succeed, especially in light of diminishing states roles in funding children’s programs and services.

Among the panelists were Olivia Golden, former Assistant Secretary for Children at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Charles Kolb, President of the Committee for Economic Development; and Margaret Simms, Urban Institute Fellow and Director for the Low-Income Working Families Project. The discussion was facilitated by Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent for PBS’ NewsHour.

The key points made during the event were that a child born poor is five times more likely than other children to be poor between age 25 and 30.  Also, childhood poverty cost the United Statesat least an estimated $500 billion per year.  In her article, Persistent Childhood Poverty’s Double Whammy, Simms points out that “childhood poverty that won’t let up takes a heavy toll on early adulthood… Letting kids languish and enter adulthood unprepared means that American’s labor force won’t be as productive as it could be and that these children’s children will likely be condemned to lifelong poverty too.” She suggested investing in early childhood development as a key ingredient in altering their futures.

Families often face various challenges that contribute to their impoverished conditions including finding stable child care, working demanding hours, language barriers, location of employment via proximity to home, and affordable housing. These were all suggested as areas for improvement.

Golden noted that public spending on children appears to be the reverse of what would make sense. She said, “Today, we have more spending on older children than younger children.  Although research proves the reverse is needed.”  Charles Kolb agreed that we under-invest in younger children. He suggested we support the private sector to assist government in implementing children’s programs. The panel also discussed the ongoing Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction negotiations, and questioned to what extent, if any, investments in children were being taken into consideration. As the deadline nears for the supercommittee to complete its work, Congress must think carefully about the recommendations to invest in and/or cut programs that directly impact vulnerable children and families.

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