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Headlines tell us that the U.S. economy is strong and that the unemployment rate is low. But those positive indicators don’t reflect the reality for the 40 million Americans living in poverty. As politicians thirst to slash safety nets, many take the stance that people need to pull themselves up, and simply work hard.

It’s not that simple, however. Wages are stagnant, inflation is rising, and hourly jobs are not guaranteeing hours to employees, which leaves many struggling to stay afloat week to week.

But aren’t we losing sight of who is most vulnerable? When we talk about welfare programs and SNAP food assistance benefits, there’s often an undertone of judgement focused on the adults. What if we brought the focus back to kids, and the staggering fact that nearly half of U.S. children live near the poverty line, according to a study in 2014?

Addressing this epidemic requires solutions from many angles. But one of the most critical answers is ignored by our leaders and most of the child welfare community. And that is family planning. Never mind the expenses for basic needs. The cost of childcare is a significant barrier to employment. When parents can’t find affordable child care, they stay home.

If we’re serious about addressing increasing inequality, child welfare and working to reduce the number of people relying on social programs, we must improve family planning. It is essential to tackling systemic low income.

Last week we asked Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar to respond to a few questions regarding child welfare. Better family planning starts with those five questions. Let’s refocus towards the needs of children from the start, rather than the failing downstream approaches currently in place.

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