Silent Voices

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At a time when every presidential hopeful is seeking  to gain the enthusiastic support of a broad range of lobbies, interest groups, PACs, and other constituencies, it is the responsibility of average citizens to speak up for those who have no voice in the political process:  America’s children.  They don’t vote, or give money to political parties; nor do they employ former Congressman and Senators to look after their interests.  They are, quite simply, the largest segment of society to be virtually ignored by politicians and parties alike.

Today, America’s children are in the worst shape they have been in for decades.   They are impoverished, hungry, and homeless in such staggering numbers that those who seek the presidency—Republican and Democrat–dare not raise these issues for fear that someone might notice the lack of attention they have paid to the most vulnerable members of society.  How else can one explain the appalling depravity of tens of millions of American children who go without their basic needs being met, day after day?

As the primary season is now in full swing, nearly 13 million kids are going hungry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own figures.  The poverty rate for America’s children, in the most recent accounting by the Census Bureau, stands at 17.4 percent, compared to 12.3 percent for the general population.  And over 1.3 million of the nation’s children are thought to be homeless, though the data is scant and unreliable because the government doesn’t count children living in cardboard boxes, tents, caves, and railroad cars. 

According to the US Department of Education, only 35% of homeless children and youths live in shelters, while 59% are thought to be sleeping in automobiles.  Of those who are fortunate enough to find beds in shelters, the vast majority is sharing quarters with alcoholics, drug addicts, child abusers, and an ever-growing number of mentally disturbed returning war veterans. (According to the V.A., roughly 200,000 veterans of all ages are homeless on any given night.)

In studies conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others, homeless shelters turn down 37% of individuals due to overcrowding.  This number has steadily increased since 2001, while the number of places available in homeless shelters has remained essentially unchanged.  Statistics for homeless families are even more horrifying with over half of all applicants being routinely turned away–an increase of 22% since 2001.  A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that, nationwide, children make up 39% of the homeless population.

In addition, and despite the “War on Drugs,” and  “Just Say No,” crack cocaine heroine, amphetamines, and marijuana are readily available in every city, town, and hamlet from sea to shining sea.  At the same time, funding for drug treatment and rehabs is less than 1/10th of 1 percent of what the government spends on oil company subsidies, and a greater percentage of our nation’s youth are being incarcerated than ever before.

Culturally, decadent media has sunk to new lows, with the exploitation of children by on-line sexual predators becoming a major focus of the F.B.I. and a virtual cash cow the NBC Television Network.  Gangster rap, chainsaw-wielding movie villains, and video games that pile up points on the basis completed murders, rapes, and grand theft, are all the rage; while our children’s role models, be they athletes or pop stars, seem to be stuck in a revolving door of treatment centers and jails.

At a time when all of these problems are worsening at an ever-accelerating rate, is it too much to ask of our presidential candidates to address these critical issues, rather than dickering over which baseball teams deserve their allegiance?

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