The conservative right tends to use our children as excuses for deficit hysteria and for dismantling Medicaid and Social Security. Yet the cold hard reality is that our children are in need of more food, more family income, and more shelter, and are getting instead only more poverty and hunger. Dismantling social safety net programs under the guise of helping our children through decreasing their future debt burden is a cynical argument at best.
In truth, it is only our social safety net programs that kept millions more American children and adults out of poverty. Government programs such as unemployment insurance, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit on household income played a critical role in keeping the poverty rate from rising even more dramatically. In 2010, 3.9 million Americans, including 1.7 million children, were lifted out of poverty because of food stamps, while 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty by unemployment insurance benefits. Social Security provided a safety net from poverty to 20.3 million of us. Medicaid, the HalfInTen campaign tells us, provided health care to 48.6 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children and families who may otherwise have had none. And, were Earned Income Tax Credit counted in the official poverty measure, it would show that the credit helped lift 5.4 million people out of poverty.
One final counter to right-wing nonsense about government spending impoverishing our children and our middle class. Although those lacking health insurance increased from 49 million in 2009 to 50 million in 2010, and employment-based health coverage continued to decline, children were protected from this downward trend because Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covered them. And, the Obama health care reform act, so much maligned by the right wing, enabled 18-24 year-olds to actually increase their health coverage by 2.0 percentage points.