By Zach Schalk
May 25, 2011 11:59 AM
Maintaining a safety net for the elderly is often a topic at the forefront of our national political discussion. Any proposal that touches Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (a program which uses much of its funds on the elderly while covering the young as well) arouses national outcry at the thought of possibly making these entitlement programs less generous. But what about a safety net for our nation’s kids? The young may not have an opportunity to vote, but they surely deserve the right to pursue a secure future as much as the elderly who benefit from these costly entitlement programs.
In the past, it could be argued that the idea of a safety net for the young was unnecessary—or even already in place. Our nation’s public education system was the envy of the world. And for the majority who didn’t make it through higher education, there were plenty of good paying jobs to fall back on—in factories and shops and farms throughout the country.
Today, the world is a different place. In states like California, spending on prisons has outpaced spending on education. Public schools around the country are now charging extra not just for extracurricular activities but also for basics like core classes and the bus ride to school. As CBS’s 60 Minutes reported this weekend—again placing juvenile issues in the national conversation in a way most news outlets are not—the economic downturn has led to an increase in families who need help to support themselves financially from their kids. Because children are allowed to work in the agriculture sector at the young age of 12, this largely plays out in the form of hundreds of thousands of young kids working the fields—harvesting and weeding when they should be studying or playing. And, as we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, we face a very real possibility of losing an entire generation of kids to the harmful cycle of poverty that last affected this many individuals during the Great Depression.
To be fair, there is a reason our entitlement programs for retirees are so cherished. They are pillars of our society, statements of our promise as a moral society that we will do everything in our power to allow our citizens to live out their lives in dignity. But over the years we have allowed our priorities to be skewed. We cannot forget the old cliché: the children are the future.
We are doing ourselves no favors by shipping kids to prison instead of fixing our schools. We may be trying to solve our short-term budget problems by slashing funding for education and other programs that directly affect our children, but we’re ultimately just selling ourselves short in the long-term. Without rebalancing our priorities and shifting our resources to protect and nurture our youth, to provide them with the resources and tools needed to succeed in the 21st Century, we are in for serious trouble down the road.