America's Children

It's no accident that politicians kiss babies. America is a nation that professes to love its children. Yet the policies we have in place to raise the next generation are those of a nation that kisses children off.

This special report offers a tour of the horizon. In the opening piece, Janet C. Gornick and Marcia K. Meyers bring news that may surprise a lot of American readers: The European welfare state is far from dead, at least in the way that it eases the work-family straddle. Europe's profamily policies have profound implications, not just for the well-being of children but for the changing role of gender in paid work and nurturing. If we want mothers and fathers to have equal opportunities, both at home and in the workplace, somebody competent needs to be looking after children. Otherwise, someone suffers. If not children, then parents. If not parents, then children. If not our working selves, our parenting selves.

Visit TAP Online's Special Segment on Children and Families

Our special issue continues with Barbara R. Bergmann's piece on what it will take to raise the wages, status, and professionalism of child care workers. By definition, low-paid and poorly trained workers are not reliable caregivers for kids. Then, in a path-breaking article, Jared Bernstein and Mark Greenberg assess welfare reform to date and explain what it will take to convert this program into one that rewards work and ends poverty.

Turning from economics to politics, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West examine the antiparent movement, which holds that the rest of society should abandon "breeders" to their own resources (who taught these people to read and to write?). Alyssa Rayman-Read looks at the new economy, which is supposedly family-friendly, and finds mainly a different brand of workaholism.

In a sober review of just whom society subsidizes, Nancy Folbre notes that, on balance, there is little net income transfer to poor kids. Well-to-do families live in nice communities with ample tax bases; their kids benefit accordingly. Max B. Sawicky, in a companion piece, explains why the first tax break we entertain should be an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

How America deals with children's health is another scandal. Alexandra Starr makes the case that all kids should be in a universal health plan, and Joshua Sharfstein, a practicing pediatrician, looks at the terrible toll on children's mental health resulting from managed care and recent policy changes.

Larry Cuban, Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein examine recent education fads--school vouchers and one-size-fits-all testing and curriculum plans--and find them to be wanting. Thomas K. Lowenstein discusses the impact of crime policies that target minor offenders on the families of the incarcerated. And Leah Platt explores the new movement to teach sexual tolerance in high schools.

All of these articles have a single subtext: It takes a society to raise a child. Social investment is not an alternative to strong and healthy families; it is a prerequisite. A large majority of Americans support this proposition. What's missing is political leadership.

This special 48-page report is made possible by the generosity of the Foundation for Child Development. Elsewhere in this issue of The American Prospect, Jonathan Rowe offers an ingenious proposal for giving every American child a grubstake at birth. And we address several explosions from the culture wars as they affect children. Wendy Kaminer and Michael Massing debate whether Congress should crack down on violent TV programs and other cultural assaults. Record producer and civil libertarian Danny Goldberg, seconding Kaminer's view, argues that the moralism of the Gore-Lieberman ticket cost Democrats the youth vote. And linguist Geoffrey Nunberg points to the futility of trying to protect young minds by applying filters to the Internet.

In our books section, author Suzanne Gordon reviews two books on the politics of caregiving. And psychologist Thomas Davey examines the controversy about the effect of divorce on children.

We publish four such special issues every year. They are our way of giving in-depth attention to major public questions and complementing political journalism with deeper public-policy analysis. We also offer a wealth of related material on The American Prospect's Web site at

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