12 Million Reasons to VOTE!
As we head into the final week before the election, the events surrounding Hurricane Sandy cause us to focus on what is most precious to us—our families, our neighbors, our communities.
The various campaigns now at a fever pitch may seem beside the point. Yet we must keep thinking about shaping the future we want for our children. The most potent way we have of affecting that path on a large scale is to exercise our right and responsibility in determining who will lead us at all levels of government.
In short, it is vital that we all VOTE. There is power in that one simple act. You may be able to vote early (check here to find your state’s procedures) or wait until Election Day, November 6. Most importantly, find out where and how you can vote and just do it. (Visit our Election Day Checklist for more information.)
If by some chance you need a reason to vote, we can give you 12 million of them. That’s how many infants and toddlers are depending on those of us eighteen or older (no need to say how many years older) to be an active participant in government and thereby help direct the nation they will someday inherit. Babies are our future doctors, construction workers, teachers, social workers, mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Babies will invent the next microchip and discover a cure for cancer. If you’re reading this blog, you know babies matter. But when it comes to making sure that babies are on the policy agenda, the only people in this election who have a voice are those who vote.
Today, ZERO TO THREE is releasing National Baby Facts, a picture of very young children in the United States. It tells an important story of young children’s experiences and how well we are meeting the goal of ensuring that every infant and toddler has the ingredients to thrive: good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences. It also identifies ways in which public policy helps families supply these ingredients. (You can also find Baby Facts for your state.)
We know that too many young children are at risk for not having all these ingredients. Almost half live in low-income families (defined as having incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, the amount economists estimate families need to make ends meet). One quarter live in families whose income falls below the poverty line. The United States lags behind other developed nations in relative child poverty as well as mortality rates for children under 5 and infants. Some other observations:
Good Health: Great strides have been made over the last several decades in securing health insurance for children (about 92% of children under six have coverage), and more will come under this umbrella through the Affordable Care Act. Yet, we still have too many babies born too soon and too small.
Strong Families: Supportive relationships nurture early development. Many young children live in families where stress created by economic situations, multiple moves, and fluctuating family structures can strain the relationships that buffer them from hardship. Programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families can help, but reach far fewer families in poverty than a few decades ago. The experiences of infants and toddlers in the child welfare system should teach us to look at all programs through the developmental lens of how they affect young children.
Positive Early Learning Experiences: A fact of life for the majority of babies is that their moms work. Child care for infants and toddlers continues to be a challenge: it is scarce to begin with, and quality care, if you can find it, is expensive. Moreover, children who could benefit from the comprehensive services of Early Head Start will find only about 4 percent are able to participate.
The bottom line—we all want the same things for our children: to grow up happy and healthy, to reach their potential, and to live productive, satisfying lives. If their futures are secure, so is the future of our nation. If too many cannot reach their potential, neither will our nation. To help all young children live out our hopes for them, we need to stay involved in the civic life of our nation. So, between now and when the polls close on November 6, be a Big Voice for Little Kids™ and VOTE!
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Senator Murray receives the award for making babies and young children a national priority.