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At the Children's Defense Fund’s recent national conference Barbara Arnwine, the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a leader of Election Protection, the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, issued an urgent call to action. Right now assaults on voting rights across the country in advance of the 2012 elections are keeping her very busy.
Right before the U.S. House of Representatives left for the summer to go home to campaign for your vote, they voted to extend the Bush era tax cuts for the richest Americans – millionaires and billionaires. For more than ten years the richest one percent have received almost $750 billion from these tax cuts. Income and wealth inequality have grown astronomically threatening the very fabric of our democracy. The top one percent in our nation now possesses more net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined. In 2008, the 400 highest-income taxpayers earned as much as the combined tax revenue of 22 state governments with almost 42 million citizens. It’s way past time to reset our moral and economic compass, demand a more just tax system where those with the most pay their fair share, and stop the reverse Robin Hood policies that take from the poor and young to give to the rich and powerful.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” When we look at the state of our union and the state of America’s children in 2012, his words ring very true. It’s impossible to deny that our nation’s economy, professed values of equal opportunity, future, and soul are all in danger right now.
On July 24th, Dr. Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, gave a video keynote speech to 3,200 community and youth leaders attending the Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference in Cincinnati—not on the details of national fiscal policy, but on the crucial importance of effective early childhood supports and public education to the success of our economy.
The State of America’s Children® Handbook provides key national information in a range of areas, as well as state tables showing how children in your state are faring and how your state compares to other states in protecting children. A more comprehensive version will be posted on the web as new data becomes available later this year as part our State of America's Children® annual report.
In 1642 the Massachusetts General Court passed one of the very first laws about education in what would become the United States. It ruled that because it was apparent “the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth,” all parents and guardians were required to make sure children received “so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes.” Educating children well enough to read and understand the laws of the community was considered so critical that local selectmen were put in charge of making sure it was done—and they would be able to tell children hadn’t been educated properly if they became “rude, stubborn & unruly.”
“The first fact that we need to understand is that America has a longer history of disenfranchisement than it does of enfranchisement. What do I mean by that? At the time of the American Revolution when America was finding its footing, more than two-thirds of the people who resided in the colonies couldn't vote. You had to be white, you had to be male, you had to have property, and you had to be privileged. This history of America is a history of political exclusion . . . It was because people were trying to control power from the very beginning.”
A Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a one in six chance of the same fate. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world: 7.1 million adult residents-one in 33-are under some form of correctional supervision including prison, jail, probation, or parole. Michelle Alexander writes in her bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that there are more adult African Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. In 2011, our state and federal prison population exceeded that of all European nations combined. Something's very wrong with this picture.
On June 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama banned mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles. This is a major victory for children and for America and a giant step forward for justice for children. Until this week, America was the only country in the world to routinely condemn children as young as 13 and 14 to die in prison.
I had the recent privilege of attending the annual dinner of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights honoring Congressman Barney Frank and National Council of La Raza head Janet Murguia. After affirming the enormous progress our nation has made in overcoming bias against people of color and gays and lesbians, Wade Henderson, the very thoughtful Leadership Conference head, issued one of the most eloquent and sobering warnings I’ve heard about the enormous dangers to America’s democracy we face today. We must heed and act upon his words.