WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., called Tuesday for a national commission to deal with the status of children in America, during the first of a series of hearings entitled "The State of the American Child."
"Only by assessing honestly our progress — celebrating our successes and acknowledging our failures — can we improve it," Dodd said in his opening remarks.
Dodd helped to create a permanent committee for the status of children in Connecticut in 1985. Now, amid an economy recovering from a recession and questions of how America treats its youth, Dodd said a national commission on the status of children is the best path to find and implement ways to improve the lives of children of America.
"You can make up for a bad quarter in the stock market, but it's not so easy to recoup what this recession has cost the kids and families who have felt its sting," he said.
Statistics on the current status of children in the U.S. caused Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, to label the treatment of youth in America as a "national disgrace" during the hearing.
According to a 2007 UNICEF report, the U.S. is last in childhood poverty out of 24 countries listed, Sanders said.
"One in seven American children has an unemployed parent," Dodd said. "One in five live in poverty, and an additional 5 million could be driven into poverty before this recession is through. One in four currently uses food stamps."
Dodd used such statistics to push for a commission similar to one in his own constituency.
The Connecticut Commission on children isn't merely a research entity, but rather a group of individuals from a vast array of ideologies analyzing what should be done to improve the lives of children, Dodd said.
Among the various issues the panel discussed: childhood obesity, low teacher wages, poor economic conditions and the lack of job opportunities for parents.
Instead of reacting to problems that arise, a national commission should focus on prevention and creating a kind of "stock portfolio" to assess risks, said member of the witness panel and Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children Elaine Zimmerman.
Also on the panel was Alma Powell, the wife of retired Gen. Colin Powell and the chairwoman of America's Promise Alliance.
Dodd, in his 30th and last year in the Senate, said the work will continue.
"I'm well aware that there's more work to be done. That's why I've called these hearings: because our work to empower every American child is not, and will never be, done."
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