The election campaign of 2008 can transform our state if the candidates focus their attention on children. We can develop a healthy economy and become a model of civility if we focus systematically on our children.
Many people are convinced government spends too much. What they mean is that government spends for services that don't benefit them or services they wish they did not need. Who wants to spend money on juvenile corrections or adult reading programs for prisoners? Who gets joy from emergency room medical services for uninsured, destitute and homeless families?
No one would say we spend too much on quality education for our children. None would argue that too many children get the preschool attention that lets them compete successfully in today's world. Is anyone ready to say we do all we can for infant and child health?
A comprehensive program that benefits children is the best way to build Indiana's future. This cannot be just another education charade centered on schools and teachers. It requires a commitment of every branch of government to focus first on children. The departments of health and family services have roles that are as important as those of the separate school corporations. The Department of Workforce Development needs to reshape itself to meet the needs of children. The Department of Corrections must return nurturing parents to their children.
Forget the sentimentality; children are necessary social investments. We need the income and services they can generate in the future. We do not need or want the future costs that accompany their poor preparation for life. And these elements can be seen today. Healthy children allow working parents to be more successful employees. Unhealthy children crowd emergency rooms, causing expenditures to be made that must be paid by the rest of us.
Children in households with more income generally live less transient lives, are less subject to abuse, are less likely to become 'clients' of our juvenile justice system. Children in households with adequate income can receive better child care and be better prepared for school. Alternatively, children who receive better child care are better prepared for school and enable adults to provide better income for the household.
If we want Indiana to be without massive health care expenses, without burdensome criminal justice costs, we need a state that focuses on children today. If we want an Indiana with good jobs, a state that uses its human resources most effectively, we do not neglect our children. If we want Indiana to retain and attract young, energetic, well-educated adults, we must provide quality services for children.
Yes, roads are important. But we find thousands of commuters who travel congested roads daily so their children can have better environments. Many people see the need to provide high-quality services for their own children but not for their neighbors'.
We neglect the future to dress our children for Halloween and overload them with Christmas presents. We are happy to keep our children occupied with TV and video games rather than give them intensive personal attention. Often, we can be found gardening while the neighbors' children vegetate.
Will the candidates of '08 have the courage to envision an Indiana of proud citizens? Or will we continue to be a people who accept second-class status as a given?
Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.