Thursday, February 14, 2013

Generations United Responds to the State of the Union Address

(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

"...this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others…"

Generations United applauds the President for his bold words in his State of the Union Address. This recognition of the social compact highlights how intergenerational cooperation, understanding, protection, and support underpin our country’s strength and its future.

In addressing the country's economic challenges he rightly recognized that America needs investments in all ages to drive our economy and modest reforms that strengthen and protect generations rather than drastic cuts to critical supports to our youngest and oldest members.

Investing in Education and Training

To boost our economy, the President called for policies to equip citizens with the education, skills and training they need to compete successfully in the global economy. That preparation, he said, “has to start at the earliest possible age.” We applaud the President’s proposal to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. As the President explained, “Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road." Generations United supports these investments in young children, which reap benefits for every generation. By preparing a strong workforce for our future, we provide the fuel for a strong economy and stronger communities. As the President noted, “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”

Strengthening the Economy and Reducing the Debt

In speaking to need to address long-term debt, the President rightly identified the rising cost of health care as the biggest driver of national debt. He acknowledged the need for modest reforms to Medicare, explaining, “…otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.” Generations United affirms the need to make modest adjustments to programs to ensure we can continue to invest in our children, while keeping our promises to our older citizens. Any changes we make we must do in the spirit of strengthening supports for our children and older adults. They must recognize that Social Security has not and will not contribute to the deficit. Needed modest reforms should take place outside of the deficit discussion and should focus on strengthening Social Security for all generations. For example restoring the student benefit would help ensure child survivors receive the continued support they need to pursue higher education.

Supporting a Strong, Diverse Workforce

In discussing the strength of our nation’s workforce, the President touched on the enduring contributions of those immigrating to our country. While fewer than 20 percent of people over the age of 65 are of color, 50 percent of those under the age of five are of color. As a result of immigration and a host of factors, our demographics are changing rapidly. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to promote policies that invest in our diverse younger populations and build bridges across generations. That way, we can prevent divides along both age and race. Generation United affirms the presidents' recognition that “Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.”

Protecting and Supporting the Bookend Generations

Highlighting the stories of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and 102-year-old Desiline Victor, the President sent a strong signal to our nation that we must protect and support our youngest and oldest populations – our bookend generations.

President Obama called for bipartisan action on reducing gun violence, to prevent more tragedies like the shooting that claimed the life of Hadiya Pendleton, a bright and determined15-year-old who was felled by a bullet as she sat in a park. Generations United affirms that our government and our citizens must support policies and actions to ensure people feel safe wherever they are: at home, at school, in the movie theater, at a mall, or in a park.

The President also called on us to follow the example of Desiline Victor. When the 102-year-old arrived to cast her ballot in the November election, she was told she would need to wait in line up to six hours to vote. She was undeterred because she held sacred her obligation as a citizen to vote. Inspired by her determination, a throng of people supported her…and, in the end, got to put on a sticker that read, “I voted.” Generations United affirms that generations of all ages have much to teach each other and that our policies must ensure people of all ages are supported in making their voices heard.

Over and over again in his remarks, the President pointed to the critical interdependence of generations. The President is absolutely right: Our reliance on each other matters. Because we are stronger together.