While we were talking about how children fare in relative care (more on this later, I promise), the Urban Institute and First Focus were talking about how children fare in the federal budget. I share their passionate frustration at our nation’s missed opportunities: the children who do not receive a decent education, the children who die because they can’t get good medical care, the children whose lives are all but stolen from them through poverty and exclusion.
My concern is that the reports tread a barren path. Talking about the needs of children while pointing to rising expenditure on Social Security and Medicare raises the specter of intergenerational conflict. We must recognize that the generations are interdependent. Each new generation can expect to learn, earn and age, all the while standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before them.
Nowhere is this clearer than in family life. One in twelve children lives with a grandparent, and 2.5 million of these children don’t have a parent present in the home. The older generation can also be among the most passionate advocates for children and youth. In Florida, older adults have campaigned for quality pre-K for all children – even when they knew their tax bills could rise to pay for it.
At some time in our lives, all of us will need the support of those around us. Children need our support, our societal investment in their health, education and well-being. And we will all benefit from the investments we make in our children. Older adults may find themselves caught in the twin traps of poverty and ill-health. The older generation has served and paid and earned and saved, and we owe them dignity in return. These twin claims do not compete: we are one society, one family. Our allegiance should not lie with just one generation, but with all those who need a little extra help.