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Supporting Virginia’s Children

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Guest Post by Cliff Schecter

Recently, there was a piece in the Richmond Times Dispatch by Every Child Matters President Michael Petit, making it clear there’s an issue that cuts along partisan lines and will benefit whichever major party candidate has the common sense to take up this cause: The plight of our children. Some recent studies have shown a spike in poverty among children that is not only deeply immoral in a country as wealthy as this one, but will only hurt us as decreased educational opportunities lead to fewer job opportunities and an increased likelihood of getting caught up in the penal system. This is what one could call common sense.

From the piece:

Last month, another national study reported on the economic well-being of American children and their families, and it contained some shocking findings. Nationwide, 16.4 million children, or 23 percent, were in families living in poverty in 2011, an increase from 15.7 million – or 22 percent – in 2010, and 3 million more than in 2005. This was on top of the finding in 2012 that the number of children living in poverty had increased by nearly 33 percent from 2000 to 2010.

How has Virginia fared? According to data from the Census Bureau, the “deep poverty” rate jumped by more than 20 percent, putting 260,000 children in households in which the income level for a family of four was below $22,000 per year. Poverty, of course, is not an academic exercise. To put it in human terms, hundreds of thousands of Virginia children go to sleep hungry, don’t get the medical care they need or are inadequately supervised while parents work. For many of these children, poverty is so disruptive that a basic education is often not possible because of frequent moves or because they attend underfunded schools that place them squarely at educational risk.

I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: build a border fence! Increase defense spending! Cut taxes for multinational corporations!

Wait, you mean you don’t think all these ways we keep spending, and proposing to spend our money makes any sense when we so many children in poverty? Good. Most Virginian’s agree with you.

In fact, rarely do you see a set of issues test so overwhelmingly across all lines, as making sure our kids are well-fed, getting them the health care they need and deserve and providing them with an early and first class education. This shouldn’t be that surprising, as seeing kids suffer is generally not something well-adjusted human beings tend to favor. So you get results like these:

ECM released a poll last month showing overwhelming support among all Virginians for proven anti-poverty, educational and health care programs for all of Virginia’s kids.

Conducted by the well-respected Mason-Dixon organization, our poll found that nearly 9 in 10 Virginians agree it’s important to “reduce child hunger,” including 82 percent of self-identified conservatives and 86 percent of self-identified moderates. Eighty-five percent of Virginians said it was important that “we lower K-12 class size and improve school buildings and other infrastructure.” And nearly 8 in 10 Virginians agreed it was important that “every child have access to quality health care,” including 80 percent of those who make less than $35,000 per year, and 75 percent of those who make more than $100,000.

Support for these programs was overwhelming among key swing voters, including women in general, and particularly those with children. Exploding demographic groups, such as Hispanics, who have almost doubled their share of Virginia’s population since 2000, and Asians, who have swelled during this same period by 68 percent, also strongly support investing in our kids. We hope those seeking elected office will take note.

Then this clearly is a sleeper issue of the 2013 gubernatorial election, as well as down-ballot races. Virginians across partisan lines and all other divisions don’t think some abstract concept such as “sequestration” is more important than whether their kids go to sleep with their stomachs full. And they don’t think that keeping taxes low on the wealthiest among us are more important than sick kids having access to healthcare.

We know those running for office, besides hopefully caring about supporting policies are looking for that leg up in their races. The governor’s race right now is neck and neck, as are some of the delegates’ races. This is the kind of thing that could make a candidate stand out, breaking through the clutter. In fact, you could say it’s pretty clear that supporting kids is the way a candidate can show Virginia voters they care more about a working mom in Fairfax County, a young unemployed college grad in Roanoke or a family struggling to make the rent in Portsmouth than the interests of lobbyists, special interests and the chattering classes in Washington.

Perhaps something for them to think about.

Disclosure: I proudly consult for Every Child Matters, advocating for the interest of our children.