The Unfortunate State of Many American Children

Let’s stir things up from the get-go. Just as the best way to protect soldiers is to keep them out of unnecessary (read: most) wars,  the best way to protect children from lives of misery is to prevent them from entering such lives. We never anticipated that we would again see a time when America would be in such dire straits. And it’s usually the children who experience the worst of it.

President of Children's Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman – photo: Children’s Defense Fund

In a recent essay on the Reader Supported News Web site, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) President Marian Wright Edelman lays out a frightening case for how bad things can get in still-rich America for so many unfortunate kids. The CDF has just released The State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook. It’s not a pretty picture.

Let’s start with the most dramatic. Guns killed kids in the United States in 2008-09 in greater numbers than all of U.S. military personnel who died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . combined . . . since both wars began.

There are more than 16 million poor children in the United States, almost half of whom live in extreme poverty. How sad is it that homeless shelters, child hunger, and child suffering have become everyday facts of life since the financial collapse of 2008?

There are now 10 states plus the District of Columbia that have poverty levels above 25 percent. Twice a minute another child is born into poverty.

On this site and in our ebook Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we make the case that we Americans need to cut down on our baby making, or at least give it a lot more thought before creating new lives. And we would hazard a guess that if you are astute enough to be reading our blog, you probably think that you are not among those whose children are likely to fall into the dark hole of poverty.

Keep in mind that there were 1.4 million bankruptcy filings in 2009, more than 1.5 million in 2010, and another 1.4 million in 2011. Add to that mortgage foreclosures of about 3.8 million in each of 2009 and 2010 and another 2.7 million in 2011.

Add to that job layoffs and you can see how bearing children can be a risky business, even for many who think they can offer prospective offspring a secure and happy life. As we make the case in our book, even those who are born into comfortable middle-class families are far from being guaranteed happy, healthy lives.

As Edelman writes: “I hope this report will be a piercing siren call that wakes up our sleeping, impervious and self-consumed nation to the lurking dangers of epidemic child neglect, illiteracy, poverty and violence. It’s way past time for those of us who call ourselves child advocates to speak and stand up and do whatever is required to close the gaping gulf between word and deed and between what we know children need and what we do for them . . . . please educate yourself and others about the urgent challenges facing our children . . .”

While she makes the case that America must give its children the help and hope they need, we make an additional argument, and one that comes equally from a position of caring for the happiness of kids. Why don’t we discourage the idealized images of happy, laughing, life-enriching children in favor of presenting realistic portrayals of the downs, as well as the ups, of creating new lives?

Miss Edelman urges that every person make a difference “if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward.” We would add that we need to educate would-be parents of the pitfalls and responsibilities of parenthood. And we should start while they are themselves still in school.


  1. Hank Millstein says:

    This is very well put. And, yes, I agree that no one should embark on being a parent without thinking of all that may lie ahead, both joyous and grievous. But much of the “misfortunes” that are here addressed hinge not on parenthood nor on population but on a fundamentally unjust social system. From the prevalence of poverty, joblessness, foreclosures, etc., you might think that this country lacks resources. It doesn’t. There’s plenty of wealth in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands. We are facing an increasing concentration of wealth while the middle class, not to mention the poor, is taking it on the chin. We need to reverse this. And we can, if we can unite.

    • Mr. Millstein, your points are good except that if people have fewer children they are more likely to be able to stand the way things are in the U.S. Those teetering on the edge of poverty due to, say, unabashed age discrimination (common in my town) might not fall into it if they don’t have children whereas if they believed this was a fairer country than it is and had children that may be the financial problem that throws them into homelessness.

      I am childfree, but given the way the U.S. currently treats people (and the fact that a candidate who opposes even our right to birth control is nip and tuck in a presidential race!) means I would chose not to have children in this country if choosing now even if I wanted them desperately. I am, of course, aware that many people are so hand-to-mouth they cannot put together the money for birth control and with Texans controlling school book creation information is lacking for the poor as well.

  2. Thank you for your website and blog. This, and all of your other articles, get right to the point of the issue, which is the unconscious manner in which most people live, and have lived, for generations, Breeding unchecked in such a way results in the very problems that are plaguing society worldwide. I fear, with 7 billion people and counting on this planet, that the tipping point has been reached and we are past recovery. The media, advertising, entertainment and religious authorities all idealize children, child rearing and childhood. Parenthood has too long been the human default setting. If we are truly to evolve, perhaps mindless, hormone-and-emotion-driven procreation should cease, and thoughtful, carefully considered family planning should become the norm. Maybe this is only a utopian dream, but to do otherwise guarantees certain widespread doom.

  3. FreeLilith says:

    I totally agree with this article.
    sigh….how grateful I am to be FIFTY-FIVE!

  4. Great article! I also think that perhaps if instead of idealized children images more often showed the horrid noises they engender & other downsides to parenthood maybe more of those who really don’t want parenthood will realize it. I suspect some of the noise we are hearing in inappropriate public places is parents who are resentful and who are foisting their resentment on the rest of us.

    Where I live the libraries are hellish noise-barns, much louder than my farmer-grandparents’ barns ever thought about being. Why & how is this relevant? I believe it is a passive-aggressive attack on those who still have the right to quiet by modern parents unhappy with their lot. I’ve even seen a child squawking in a library turn out to have been begging (over and over) to be taken to the bathroom because the grandparent who brought her in is too busy with her own fun on a library computer to get up and take the poor child to the bathroom!!!!!!

  5. Detailed writeup with lots of rcefrenees to well-founded studies, no doubt. But I do not think you or the writeup are putting forth an argument that has no other side.I quote from the writeup A few generations ago, people weren’t stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy. Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters. The question is, why are we beginning to examine this new choice . Is it really because it’s better for the planet to have less resource-depleting human beings on it? Or could it be selfcenteredness on our part? Hubris? The pursuit of our own happiness/comfort/convenience, above all else?Once again, I quote from the writeup Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak. This scene, which isn’t even all that awful or uncommon, makes it perfectly clear why parenting may be regarded as less fun than having dinner with friends or baking a cake. Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing. Re read this para in light of the questions I asked earlier. Yes, travelling across the world or catching a movie with friends can be infinitely more satisfying to us as individuals that the trials and tribulations of parenting , in spite of the limitless love we may have for our children as parents. So why do some of us do it? Ever asked yourself that?I’ve said it before, and I say it again Parenting is not for everyone, and I don’t mean to imply that being childfree is not an option. But there’s gotta be more to the reason than individual comfort and convenience, don’t you think?! Every Life has a purpose, even though, at times, it may not be quite apparent to us. And, being a part of nature’s creation process may be the one thing that brings us all closer to Nature herself, and by extension, to God (or whatever life-force you believe in!) Where would this blog, and you & I, be if our parents had exercised their choice ?!

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