by Kathie England

Five Big Steps

Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s newest book, Tightrope, I step boldly away from proposing small steps this month. Instead, I share five big steps they suggest to regain America.

High-quality early childhood programs

Kristof and WuDunn believe this may be the single best thing we could do in the United States to help at-risk children. They cite findings from the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering 2019 report that “each year child poverty costs Americans about $1 trillion in crime, education and welfare costs and related expenses. It is estimated that child poverty could be cut by more than half in ten years with a series of steps costing about one-tenth as much, $100 billion a year, while also creating jobs.”

For families living under the poverty level, childcare now consumes almost one-third of family income.

Universal high-school graduation

In the U.S. one child in seven doesn’t graduate from high school on time (including one-fourth of black students). These dropouts rarely have much of a future. This number is in sharp contrast to graduation rates in Japan, Russia, Ireland, and Finland where the drop-out rate is less than 3 percent. Offering apprenticeship programs, vocational training, career academies, and other similar efforts would increase the odds that students who stick with high school will be able to find a job at the end.

Universal health coverage

This idea was first proposed by President Harry Truman seven decades ago. Universal access to affordable healthcare would prevent millions of Americans from slipping through the myriad of cracks discussed in Tightrope, including impaired national competitiveness, reduced life expectancy, and the individual heartbreak described by Kristof and WuDunn, not only in Yamhill County, Oregon where Kristof grew up but throughout the United States.

Elimination of unwanted pregnancies

“Teenage pregnancy is a major precursor of poverty.” Ample evidence shows that free access to long-acting reversible contraceptives and other types of contraceptives can reduce unwanted pregnancies. A $1 dollar investment in this type of program reaps $7 in savings. It dramatically improves the odds of teenage girls graduating from high school. It also means fewer abortions.

A monthly child allowance

“Research shows that a government payment of about $250 a month to each household with a child would give poorer children a better start in life.” This type of allowance has been successful in Canada, Australia, and nearly every European county. This allowance would virtually eliminate children living in extreme poverty in the United States.

Last month I urged readers to sponsor a child through Save the Children. The five-year-old girl I sponsored lives in South Carolina where nearly 25% of the state’s children live at or below the poverty line. 40% live in extreme poverty in the communities where Save the Children works.

Once again I invite you to take a small step by sponsoring a child through Save the Children.

I end this month’s post with a quote from James Baldwin. This quote opened that last chapter in Tightrope titled “America Regained.”

“I know what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand.”

James Baldwin