Americas Children Are in Jeopardy
September 1989By James G. Hanink
James G. Hanink is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Associate Editor of the NOR. A different version of this essay was presented at the 1989 meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association in New Orleans.
Americas children are not as well off as most Americans assume. It is time to speak of an ethics of having and nurturing children.
We cant speak sensibly about children unless we speak first about their families. These families, though they are so very much more, are also economic units. In the United States the top 10 percent of the population owns 65 percent of all net worth, the bottom half a mere four percent. It is in this context of sharp economic inequality that families serve to pass wealth on from one generation to the next, if they are intact families. But if a family is broken, poverty is more likely its childrens inheritance. Of children born in 1987, the Bureau of the Census estimates that only 39 percent will live with both natural parents until they are 18. Little wonder, then, that for about a decade now, America has been a nation whose poorest group is its own children.
In a society in which there are grave inequalities in wealth, children are the poorest of all. Other societies experience a similar phenomenon. But one doubts whether other societies were so aware of the phenomenon, so able to effect a change, and so unwilling to do so.
There are other inescapable statistics to consider for those who would construct an ethics of having and nurturing children. Some are familiar: since Roe v. Wade in 1973, we Americans have legally aborted about 24 million preborn human beings. Related statistics are perhaps less well known. The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is extraordinarily high, given our resources. Some 17 nations, including Hong Kong and Singapore, have better rates. In absolute numbers about 40,000 infants a year die in our country before they reach their first year. In fact, the number of infant deaths is higher than the total number of AIDS-related deaths. Moreover, in the U.S. in 1986 there were over 20,000 cases of child abandonment, by cautious count. The number has tripled in the last 10 years.
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