Bombs over babies: What about the children?

After the loss of pandemic funds, about one-third of Texas child care closed down. The photo was taken at a May 2023 nationwide rally, “Day Without Child Care.” Photo: Leila Saidane/The Texas Tribune

News reports show that funds for early childhood education and welfare are drying up at every level of the U.S. government. The cutback is raising issues about the continued maintenance of child care centers. Many are closing because families are unable to pay for them.

On average, families are forced to spend an unaffordable one-quarter of their income on child care fees. Urgent issues are being raised about the ability or inability of parents to continue to work, and about the jobs of child care workers – one of the lowest-paid jobs in the country. One issue that gets little attention is the economic stress caused by racism, which hits communities that are struggling the hardest. 

The elephant in the room is the most important issue that is seldom addressed: the development and nurturing of small children, the future of all societies. What happens to three- and four-year-olds when they are locked in with angry older siblings while their parents desperately try to find subsistence? What happens when they are parked for hours in front of a TV or computer or allowed to feel that they are the cause of the stress destroying their families?

What happens when they are denied the advantage of learning numbers and the letters of the alphabet from skilled teachers, when they can’t spend their days learning to socialize and make friends or going to a playground? Child care centers can provide nutritious food and medical attention and set up child-friendly environments.

In the U.S., unlike many countries, early childhood education is not part of the public education system. It is viewed as if it were a “babysitting problem.” Education is a basic right that has been fought for since Emancipation. During the Civil Rights Movement, Black and Latinx families in New York City fought for community control over their children’s education. In the process, they won an activist child care workers’ union. 

Racist backlash hurts all kids

The racist backlash that eroded those gains has hurt all children. The results of a 2020 study by the U.S. Department of Education reflect the overall low position of public education. Roughly half of U.S. adults aged 16 to 74 — 54% or 130 million people — lack literacy proficiency. In a 2024 World Population review, the U.S. ranks 36th in literacy. The largest percentage of those with low literacy skills are white U.S.-born adults.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in every five children in the U.S. is unsure where they will get their next meal. The report found that 44.2 million people lived in households with difficulty getting enough food to feed everyone in 2022, up from 33.8 million people the previous year. Those families include more than 13 million children experiencing food insecurity, a jump of nearly 45% from 2021. 

Overall, households with children experienced food insecurity at significantly higher rates than the national average. The rates for Black and Latinx households were both more than double the national average.

The Census Bureau released data on the poverty rate in 2022. Due to economic relief during the pandemic, the child poverty rate dropped to 5.2% in 2021. By 2022, the child poverty rate more than doubled, rising to 12.4%. In wealthy cities like New York, that rate is soaring to over 16% in some areas.

Another threat to small children is the loss of Medicaid coverage. Since spring 2023, Medicaid has dropped coverage for around 4 million children. Those without any insurance are denied routine care for conditions such as asthma and diabetes, not to mention vaccines.

The availability of free child care would go a long way to easing the myriad of crises currently facing families. Child care must be established as an intrinsic part of public education.

On Feb. 27, the New York Times reported, “Without Funding, the Business of Child Care is Back on the Brink.” The Times reports that “during the pandemic there was temporary relief. The federal government spent $24 billion dollars to keep the industry afloat.”  That relief funding, which is taxed, expired in September. Child care, like the prisons that are privatized for profit, is not viable without the support of government funds.

Like most Democratic Party administrations, Biden was unwilling to implement campaign promises on social spending, unlike the $100 billion he has supplied to the military industry. The Republicans, despite their reverence for fetuses, do not support subsidized child care and universal pre-kindergarten.

The whole world has been outraged by the rain of U.S.-supplied bombs killing Palestinian children. The military industry is pocketing the profits of that inhuman massacre. 

When the world’s children come first, children in the U.S. will begin to thrive.

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