As 2020 contenders like Warren, Booker, Harris, Gillibrand, Schultz, and others make the media rounds, we’ve been hearing a common theme: creating a future where Americans have the opportunity to succeed. They talk about getting a fair shot and the struggle to get ahead.
Elizabeth Warren frequently declares that it shouldn’t matter where you come from. She wants to fight for “…an America where every kid, no matter what that kid’s zip code is, has that same fighting chance.” It’s a trope used frequently by candidates.
But the reality is, it does matter what zip code a child is born into. If we want a country where the zip code in which you are born doesn’t matter, family planning HAS to be part of that picture. There’s no way around it.
In “Giving Kids a Fair Chance,” Nobel Prize Economist James Heckman argues, “the accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality in America today. Children born into disadvantage are, by the time they start kindergarten, already at risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, crime, and a lifetime of low-wage work.”
Being born into poverty harms kids for life, and the longer it is experienced, the harder it is to overcome. Unequal opportunities translate into unequal lifelong outcomes by the time children reach the age of five. And right now a whopping 41% of American children live in or near poverty. Inequality in the U.S. is so pervasive that the UN has called us “the most unequal society in the developed world.”
There’s no level playing field without a fair start in life.
If we’re not talking about fairness from birth, we are not addressing the disparities in cognitive, emotional and health development that are inflicted. We’re not addressing the gap between young children who receive full attention from their parents and those who are missing critical early learning and social skills because their parents are working multiple jobs to get by.
We squabble about how to improve school performance while ignoring the fact that 14.8 million kids in the U.S. don’t have enough to eat. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that hungry kids cannot concentrate and do well in school.
As the Huffington Post explained:
“The root of the problem of school performance is that we do not know how to effectively respond to the impact of poverty on a child’s readiness to learn or how to provide more effective instruction to accelerate progress for low-income students who find themselves behind their peers.
Children born into poverty must overcome significant obstacles to their educational success before ever stepping a foot into a classroom or school. And once they do enter school, they encounter a system designed to provide instruction to groups of children that are expected to learn in the same environment and at the same pace. For children in poverty who began their formal schooling already behind other children, this uniform pace and structure assure that they will never catch up to their peers.”
How Family Planning Reduces Inequality
The decades of evidence is clear. Parents who plan, wait, and focus resources on smaller families are more financially secure and stable, parent better, and invest more in each child. The results pay off for kids in the form of greater academic achievement, emotional health, social mobility, health, community participation, gender equality, lifetime success, and more. Research indicates that better family planning is the most effective way to end the cycle of poverty.
Fixing Our Broken System
Some candidates are exploring the idea of a Green New Deal among other fixes. Yes, corporations and the 1% need to pay their fair share in taxes, adults need a living wage, and the cost of higher education needs to be addressed. But history shows that fairer taxes and better jobs are not enough. All of that must go hand-in-hand with investments in children and family planning to enable every child to succeed throughout their development and into adulthood.
One solution? Guaranteed Minimum Income tied to family planning. Having Kids has proposed such a plan to reduce inequality in D.C. Another approach is having great success in Colorado through the LARC4CO program, a partner of Having Kids. They offer affordable long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to reduce unintended pregnancy and empower families to achieve greater stability before having kids. Investments like these are powerful tools in reducing economic inequality.
Until we invest in better family planning to give all kids a fair start, zip codes will continue to matter in the fight for equality. We implore the candidates to start the conversation.
TAKE ACTION: Tweet the candidates and tell them that we must invest in family planning to reduce inequality. Use the hashtag #fairstart.