Magazine article The American Prospect

Budget Cuts and Our Children's Future: Deficit Hawks Invoke the Next Generation, but an Austerity Program Would Balance the Budget on the Backs of America's Most Vulnerable Parents and Children

Magazine article The American Prospect

Budget Cuts and Our Children's Future: Deficit Hawks Invoke the Next Generation, but an Austerity Program Would Balance the Budget on the Backs of America's Most Vulnerable Parents and Children

Article excerpt

Life for Griselda Almanza is not easy. She is a single mother in Oakland, California, with two young children. This year Almanza's life became much harder because budget cuts shut down the child-care program her sons attended while she worked as a house cleaner. Almanza thinks that she will have to quit her job. Many children of immigrants like Almanza's sons are losing a valuable opportunity to learn English and other subjects because of closing child-care centers.

Our children's future is in jeopardy because of large cuts to pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education, higher education, and health programs benefiting children and because of continuing cuts in parents' incomes. About 40 percent of America's children under 18 are low-income, meaning their families earn less than twice the poverty level. This translates to a family income of about $44,000 a year for a family of four. About one-third of these children are non-Hispanic white.

Low-income children and particularly children of color have been hurt badly by this recession because their parents have suffered the highest rates of job loss. In August the unemployment rate for white-collar workers was 6.4 percent. The unemployment rate for workers in the service sector was 10.7 percent, and it was 13.7 percent for blue-collar workers. Workers with only a high school diploma were more than twice as likely to be unemployed as workers with a college degree. Among racial groups, black and Hispanic workers had the highest unemployment rates. Even blacks with a college degree were nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as were whites with a college degree.

Low-income people who have jobs are also hurting. Among workers with a high school diploma or less, 39 percent reported to the Pew Research Center that they were forced to work fewer hours, thereby reducing their take-home pay since the start of the recession. The rate for workers with college degrees was much less at 14 percent. For white workers, it was 22 percent. For Hispanics and blacks, it was 40 percent and 42 percent respectively, nearly twice as high.

On top of the burdens of prolonged joblessness and reduced work hours, low-income families are now being harmed by budget cuts. Parents who lose their jobs or who lose income and fall into economic hardship often end up turning to the government for help. The fiscal crises in state and local governments, however, are forcing these governments to cut jobs and services precisely when they are needed most, contributing to the long-term damage for the most vulnerable families.

Even before this prolonged recession, the United States ranked poorly in providing early childhood education. A 2008 UNICEF report placed the United States 20th out of 24 countries. In 2009, only 16 states provided enough funding to meet the quality standards defined by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). Nonetheless, our country had been making progress over the past decade--progress which is now being reversed due to the fiscal crisis.

High-quality preschool and kindergarten can help disadvantaged children catch up academically to their more privileged peers. But after some modest progress, the U.S. is now going backward. NIEER reports that, adjusting for inflation, 24 states reduced their funding for pre-kindergarten in the 2008-2009 academic year. Quality full-day programs are being cut to weaker half-day programs. Some programs are being cut completely, and some previously free programs are now charging a fee. And deeper cuts are likely.

Early childhood education helps kids learn and allows a low-income parent to work without sacrificing a child's well-being. These reductions in early childhood education, therefore, hurt the child educationally, the household economically, and the family as a social unit.

THE FULL EDUCATIONAL nightmare is unfolding right now in California, Almanza's state. …

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