Don’t Let Congress Push Our Future Off the (Fiscal) Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project Yesterday, NCLR released the Latino Kids Data Explorer, a unique resource that combines information from several sources into one easy-to-use tool. Advocates, policymakers, and even parents can use this database to see how Latino and other children in their state are faring according to 27 different measures of well-being. The data make one thing clear: we have to pursue stronger policies that create opportunities for children and their families. While Latino children have made gains in several areas such as health insurance coverage and preschool attendance, the reality is that Latino children, as well as Black children, lag far behind their White counterparts in almost all measures of child well-being. This should be of great concern to us all given that Latino children, as one of the fastest-growing child populations in the country, will not only make up our future workforce but also pay the taxes that sustain our nation. If our political leaders shortchange this crucial population during the upcoming conversations on the national debt, they will end up pushing our children off a “fiscal cliff” from which they may never recover. Last year, policymakers in Washington agreed on a deal to extend tax cuts until December 31, 2012. They also scheduled massive budget cuts to take place concurrently. On January 1, 2013, Americans will be hit with cuts to vital programs in education, health, housing, and job training, as well as a tax hike, unless Congress takes action. This “fiscal cliff” would cause serious harm to families and could slow down or even reverse economic growth, potentially increasing unemployment while simultaneously gutting programs intended to help struggling families. Hispanics must pay close attention to how Congress addresses this issue because the wrong approach can cause long-term damage to our community.

Latino children, and all poor children, will face a double hit if Congress makes draconian cuts to the programs that so many of them depend on to survive. The first hit comes in the form of decreased access to our nation’s safety net and the education they need to become productive members of society. Our nation runs the risk of backtracking on the progress that Latinos have made over the last decade in graduating from high school, obtaining health insurance, and attending preschool. The number of Latino children living with mothers who have less than a high school education or live in poverty will likely rise.

The second hit—cuts to entitlements—will not affect the current generation, but it will have an unquestionably disproportionate effect on these same children down the road. Hispanic children will enter adulthood to find our safety net in tatters. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare will be acutely felt by a poorer and potentially less healthy generation.

As a Latina, voter, and mother, I ask myself how that is fair. How can our leaders pass the burden on to today’s children? Why would our nation’s leaders condemn young Latinos to a childhood of neglect and an adulthood of suffering? Why would they kill the American Dream for nearly one-quarter of our nation’s children? These are questions that all Latinos, and all Americans, must ask themselves. Then we must resolve to make a difference. Our community must inform itself and act to ensure that our nation’s leaders get the message: our community will not let them damn our children to a lifetime of poverty.