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As Washington Tightens Its Belt, Kids Get Squeezed

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In a matter of weeks, the Congressional Deficit Super Committee will convene to consider some of the most dramatic spending cuts in our nation's history.

The battle lines, political maneuvering and cast of characters will be predictable. Seniors groups, defense contractors, corporations and state and local governments will line up with talking points, talking heads and fast-talking lobbyists.

Also unchanged is the one constituency that won't have a voice in this decisive exercise: kids. Kids don't vote, they don't appear on MSNBC or Fox News and they don't run PACs.

Now, according to a brand-new report, inadequately integrating the needs of kids into the political process is having dire consequences.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation "Kids Count" Report, released this week, reveals that childhood poverty rose dramatically in 38 states over the last decade, reversing declines throughout the 1990s.

At the same time, parallel studies point to poverty rates for seniors that are the lowest of all age groups, unveiling a tragic, yet unsurprising, correlation between generational political influence and federal investment.

Keeping all Americans above the poverty line is everyone's mission but the effects on children reverberate far into our nation's future.

Kids living in poverty means kids who have fallen 18 months behind educationally by age four, kids who are more likely to be obese and kids who will mature into teens and young adults at higher risk for drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and becoming high-school drop outs.

The timing of the new Kids Count report is serendipitous, as it sends a message to the Super Committee members, many of whom, thankfully, are longtime children's advocates.

Still, a shrinking commitment from the federal government is a near certainty. That means the safety net role played by private organizations will become even more important.

Fortunately, there are innovative solutions already at play:

  • Catholic Charities USA has deployed a creative and highly efficient state-based anti-poverty approach designed to meet the unique needs of local communities across the nation.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative is a shining model, bringing together schools, state and national leaders, big grocery chains, houses of faith and others to take on the childhood obesity epidemic that's affecting a third of all kids nationally and half of all kids living in struggling and remote parts of the country.
  • Save the Children's U.S. Programs runs elementary-level literacy, fitness and nutrition programs as well as early childhood education programs through private-public partnerships in 14 states. These programs serve more than 80,000 of the most vulnerable kids in rural America, giving them a fair chance in life.

Still, as we stand on the verge of some of the most painful disinvestments from people in our nation's history, private groups can't hold the line if government won't help keep the balance.

At this moment, we can't only ask our politics to be less divided by ideology, we must also insist that it be less divided by generation. If we fail, the news ten years from now will be even worse than what the Casey Foundation delivered today.