09/16/2010 07:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

America's Kids: Bearing the Brunt of the Recession

The Census Bureau made official what we've seen anecdotally for months: America is deeper in poverty today than it's been in more than a decade. According to the Bureau's report, 43 million Americans are now living in poverty, up from 39 million the year before.

Incredibly, the age group with the highest rates of poverty are children under 18; their ranks increased by 1.4 million kids this year to a total of more than 15 million American children.

We can have a robust debate about the role of government for adults living in poverty but children can't work and they can't vote. If we all agree that every child deserves a fair chance in life, our best hope for reversing this tragic trend is to make the kind of investment that gives every child a quality education and proper nutrition, providing a path to lifelong success.

Unfortunately, we simply haven't made that investment and our kids are paying the price, threatening the future of America.

Four-year-old kids living in poverty are 18 months behind their peers and only 15 percent of fourth graders from poor homes are reading at levels considered proficient by the U.S. Department of Education.

These gaps in early childhood stay with these kids for rest of their lives, leading to increased high school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy and unemployment.

Equally alarming, almost half of kids living living in poverty -- where one might think hunger is an issue -- are in fact obese or overweight. Indeed, the obesity crisis puts kids at risk for "adult" diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, stunting their productivity and straining our health care system.

Now is the time to act. Congress should immediately work to pass the Child Nutrition bill and get it to the President's desk. As Members of Congress continue working to finalize the FY2011 budget, they must ensure that essential funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and the Early Learning Challenge Fund is signed into law.

Unless we reverse these trends, the poverty crisis will continue to threaten American families today and America's promise tomorrow.