Impressive things I saw on my trip to Russia in the summer of 2017.
The Kremlin. The Hermitage
Young couples pushing baby carriages.
No kidding, they were everywhere.
That might not sound impressive until you consider the “Russian Cross.”
That was the infamous point in 1990 – amid the economic chaos that ensued after the fall of Soviet communism – when the rising death rate crossed the falling birth rate.
The Russian Cross didn’t reverse itself until 2012. And that didn’t come about by accident.
Rather, it happened because Russians made a conscious decision to invest in children. Women were awarded “pregnancy allowances” worth several thousand dollars, and lucrative “motherhood capital” benefits for a second child…with still more tacked on for triplets. Child care and pre-school was heavily subsidized so parents could work without worrying about their kids.
Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the reverse of what we Boomers have been doing back here at home. For years now we have been front-loading our tax breaks and government entitlements toward the goal of making life easier for us seniors in our golden years.
Not that there’s anything wrong with any society taking care of its elderly. But there’s no question that my generation has chosen to do so at the expense of our children.
So It was no great surprise to hear, shortly after returning to the U.S. from my Russian visit, U.S. Sen Orrin Hatch say: “The reason CHIP’s having trouble is that we don’t have money anymore.”?
CHIPS being the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides care for about 8.9 million American kids.
Or at least it did before we…um…ran out of money.
Call it the “American Double Cross.” That point at which the political imperative to award tax cuts to the wealthy surpassed the fiscally prudent strategy of investing in our children. In our future, really.
I’d like to think that we are a better country than that, but they keep proving me wrong up in the D.C. Swamp. Especially now that we have well and truly entered the Imperial Age of Trump.
Which is not to say that we are not capable of choosing to invest in our children right here at home. Indeed, in this election just past, Alachua County voters opted to bank on its children on at least two fronts.
A healthy majority of voters agreed to raise their sales taxes in order to help fix up Alachua County’s aging schools – the State Legislature long ago having, um, economized on public school funding so as to pour more tax dollars into charters and private education.
And while they were at it, local voters also raised their property taxes to better fund basic children’s services: That initiative will raise $6 million to $7 million a year for pre-school education, after school care, early childhood health and nutrition services and more.
Right here at home.
Apparently at least we in Alachua County are better custodians of our children than the likes of Donald Trump and Orrin Hatch.
One more recollection from my visit to Russia. While on a bicycle tour in St. Petersburg our young guide took us to a small park to show us a monument to the children who helped form the backbone of the local resistance when Germany laid siege to what was then called Leningrad during World War II.
Just kids, really. But for nearly 900 days they played dangerous cat and mouse games with hardened Nazi shock troops amid the rubble of Tzar Peter’s grand city. And when it was finally over, predictably, the majority of Leningrad’s casualties were women and children.
It is a stirring image of defiant kids. In a green park. In a now prosperous city. In a country that hasn’t forgotten its children.
I wish we could say the same thing here at home.
(A version of this blog appeared in The Gainesville Sun in Dec. 2017.)