Mr. Romney's "Ample Safety Net" Comment

During an interview last week in which Mitt Romney announced his apparent lack of concern for the very poor because “We have a  very ample safety net”, Mr. Romney appears to turn his back on the nation’s 16 million children—22% of all children—who live in poverty. We suspect Mr. Romney wishes he could retract and reframe his response.  No matter.  Mr. Romney commendably says he wants to assist America’s struggling middle class, but the working poor and their children also are struggling. One big reason is because an already overburdened safety net is failing to contain the explosive growth in poverty caused by 2008’s economic meltdown. But even prior to 2008 our poorest children were struggling. For more than a decade every credible examination of child well-being in the rich democracies ranks the U.S. near the bottom. Sky high rates of imprisonment, child abuse, and school dropout are all highly associated with child poverty.

To avoid being labeled as the would-be president of some of our children instead of all of our children, Mr. Romney might benefit from a look back at presidential history. In 1909, concerned about the status of millions of poor children, GOP President Theodore Roosevelt convened the first-ever White House Conference on Children, Youth and Families. One result, led by GOP President William Howard Taft, was the creation of the federal Children’s Bureau in 1912. The Bureau in turn helped spawn decades of improvements in child well-being, including the end of child labor, maternal and child health, hot lunch programs, protection from abuse and neglect, and the near eradication of communicable childhood diseases. Presidential fingerprints can be found all over these gains. All of us, poor or not, benefit when striking down child poverty is a political priority.

To learn more about how past presidents have addressed children’s issues, download ECM’s booklet ‘Presidents Helping Children’, and watch the video of the same name.