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By the time President Obama and Governor Romney throw out the first punches in the October 3 debate, many of the nation’s 16 million poor children will be fast asleep. Some of them will have gone to bed hungry. Some of them will be sleeping in homeless shelters or substandard housing. Many of them live in distressed communities with few quality jobs available for their parents and struggling public schools. All of them face certain hurdles in academic achievement, employment prospects, and economic success that threaten the long-term economic competitiveness of our country. Children living in poverty are less likely to be successful in school and less likely to be gainfully employed over their lifetimes. And the longer children live in poverty, the worse their adult outcomes, including employment and earnings.

Those 16 million poor children represent one in five of all children in the United States. Moreover, poverty rates are alarmingly higher for both young children, under age 6, and children of color.  The prevalence of poverty among the very youngest children means that during the earliest years of life--a fundamental period of rapid brain growth and development—babies are deprived of the very resources they need to thrive.

These dismal statistics are of great concern to anti-poverty advocates, spurring a recent social media campaign to #TalkPoverty during this election season and beyond.  CLASP has joined Half in Ten and Every Child Matters to press the debate moderators to include a question about child poverty in the presidential debates. (And it’s not too late @NewsHour to ask the candidates for their poverty reduction plans.)  At CLASP, we will also be live tweeting the debate @CLASP_DC.  Tune in to see our reactions to the event.

It’s past time to have a meaningful dialogue about poverty in this country. One in which we recognize that the fate of one-fifth of our nation’s children is our collective fate. One in which we commit to standing together as a country for our children. One in which we admit that our public investments in our future workforce, particularly during the earliest years of life, are woefully inadequate. One in which we acknowledge that government has an important role to play in increasing opportunity and reducing poverty and income inequality.

Solutions to child poverty exist. President Obama, Governor Romney—what do you propose?

Follow me on Twitter @HNMatthews


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