By Mayra E. Alvarez
For the first time in decades, California is in the spotlight for this year’s presidential primary elections. With so much attention on the Golden State, Californians are in a better position to raise the issues that impact the future of our state and country. Among these issues, none impacts our future more than making sure our children and youth have the opportunities they need to succeed.
The fact of the matter is that 65 percent of Americans do not believe the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation. On top of that, a record number of people believe the American Dream is out of reach. These sentiments arguably reflect reality. An opportunity gap is widening for children, especially children of color, who too often do not have the basic building blocks to get ahead. Meanwhile, our national priorities are not set up to help close these gaps. According to an Urban Institute report, the share of federal spending dedicated to children has been declining over the course of the last six years. It is expected to decline further, from 10.1 percent in 2014 to 7.7 percent in 2025. One of our great partners, First Focus, said it best: “Children are 25 percent of the population, 100 percent of our future, and only 8 percent of federal spending.”
As we consider our candidates, we need leaders that will prioritize measures that put children first and support policies and programs that further health care reforms, strengthen families, and advance equity. At the ballot box, children need adults that are voting on their behalf, giving voice to the needs of children and identifying champions for breaking down barriers to advancement.
Together, we need to continue to make sure kids and families have the foundation of health care. Good health helps ensure every child can succeed. It means children develop on track and enter school ready to learn. Protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the bedrock of Medicaid and CHIP on which it was built, will help the millions of families who obtained coverage keep the security having such coverage provides. Continuing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2017 will be crucial to the future outlook for our children. CHIP provides health coverage for nearly eight million children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford private insurance. Because of these programs, the rate of uninsured Californians dropped from nearly 15 percent in 2009 to just under 12 percent in 2014. For children, the uninsured rate dropped from 5.7 percent to 4.5 percent during the same period. The recent expansion of Medi-Cal will close the gap in coverage for up to 250,000 undocumented children. Today, we are in a position to cross the finish line and provide every child in California access to quality health coverage.
Supporting our families will also be key in helping children thrive. From a fair family leave policy to affordable childcare to a living wage, ensuring families have the necessary supports and services to care for children is critical to their well-being. Comprehensive immigration reform will provide security for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants who live, work, and raise children in our country.Children with undocumented parents and family members already live with constant anxiety, fearing their loved ones could be deported at any time. These fears can have severe consequences for children’s development and their ability to thrive.Reform would alleviate fears of separation and recognize that immigrants are part of the fabric of our society and that their well-being is directly linked to our country’s well-being, today and in the future.
Every child, regardless of his or her background, should have the opportunity for a bright future. From ensuring healthy development to investments in early learning to providing safety and a sense of permanence for every child, our vote can contribute to advancing equity for children. The United States thrives on diversity and grows more diverse every day, with children leading the way. Today, half of all children born in the US are children of color; in California, that number is almost three in four. Our country’s future will be in the hands of a diverse group of children speaking multiple languages, encompassing a multitude of cultures, and it is our responsibility today to support our children through the power of our vote.
Regardless of political affiliation, all of us want our children to grow into productive adults ready to contribute to their communities and help lead the nation. This election, it is critical to make our vote count for every child and the promise they possess for our future as a country.