The War Against Youth

I don’t make a habit of reading Esquire. It’s a magazine for men and I don’t fit their demographic. Still, this fascinating article in the April issue, “The War Against Youth,” by Stephen Marche, came through my work email by way of a couple different sources (both men), and caught my attention.

As a relatively young person (under 30) in the child advocacy world, this article had implications both for my work and for my personal life, because it paints the picture of “youth” broadly as those under 35. Not only would several of my friends and colleagues, their children and grandchildren, be affected by the implications of this article, but all the children throughout the Commonwealth that I am working for would be affected too.

The article begins with some pretty dire numbers: “In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.” The article then goes on to cite spending differences between programs primarily helping older Americans, vs. programs primarily aiding the young: “There is a young America and there is an old America, and they don’t form a community of interest. One takes from the other. The federal government spends $480 billion on Medicare and $68 billion on education. Prescription drugs: $62 billion. Head Start: $8 billion.”

This is not really news to child advocates. The national organization, First Focus, regularly publishes a Children’s Budget that analyzes how much of the federal budget is spent on children’s programs. To show us how spending on children ranks as a domestic priority, First Focus calculates the kids’ share of the domestic budget, which excludes spending on defense and international programs. They found that spending on children composed 20 percent of the domestic budget in 1960 and has fallen since to 16 percent of the domestic budget in 2010. In contrast, spending on the non-child portions of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid has more than doubled, increasing from 22 to 47 percent of domestic spending over the same period.

Marche and First Focus aren’t the only ones talking about this problem. A recent publication from the Center on Children and Families at Brookings asks: “Are We Headed Toward a Permanently Divided Society?” Fewer and fewer Americans believe the next generation will have a better life than their parents. More of the public also believe that there are strong conflicts between the rich and the poor. And, the data back this up. There are greater inequalities between income, education, and family structure then there were a few decades ago, making it increasingly likely that these inequalities will just persist in the future.

Unlike the Esquire article, the Brookings piece isn’t so much based on a generational divide as it is on economic inequality – but the two ideas are intertwined. Greater income disparities today will make it more difficult for children in poverty to climb the income ladder in the future.

So what can we as child advocates, and those interested in growing a stronger future for Kentucky, take away from the Esquire article?

  1. Because children cannot vote, or advocate for themselves, it’s important that others vote with children in mind, and make their voices heard at the local, state, and federal levels.
  2. Ultimately – children are our future, and it’s imperative policymakers at all levels of government do what they can to ensure investments in children’s health, education, and safety. Low-income children are at an even greater disadvantage, and programs at the federal and state levels need to be protected that help these children advance in life – building a stronger future for Kentucky, and for the country.

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