January 21, 2013

“In announcing his package of proposals Wednesday, President Obama was flanked by children who wrote him letters about gun violence in the weeks after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School”

— Los Angeles Times, January 16

My fellow Americans:

Inaugurations are about the future. Which means they’re about our children. And you’d be amazed at how many letters I get from kids. They’re not just about guns. I’m telling you, we’ve got some really bright kids in this country! It’s time we heard their voices. Because whatever our differences, however petty our Washington bickering becomes, there’s one piece of pabulum that unites us — our conviction that it’s all about “the children.” So let me turn this inaugural address over to Tommy, Anna, Santiago, Sofia, Jimmy and Jing — the all-American kids you see standing here behind me — and read from their letters.

“Dear President Obama: Our teacher showed us a study that says couples on Medicare pay $122,000 into the system while they’re working but then get $387,000 in benefits once they retire. In math we figured out this means they get back 3.2 times more than they paid in. This ratio will get bigger as health costs keep going up. How can this work? What is the plan? Will me and my friends have to pay for all this when we grow up? If so, can you please make it stop?” — Tommy, aged 12, Houston.

“Dear President Obama: We just read in social studies that China is investing $250 billion every year to help young people go to college. My family can’t afford to send me. In 1980, a year at a public college cost about 12 percent of family income; the maximum Pell grant back then covered 70 percent of that. Today, public colleges cost 26 percent of family income each year, but the level of Pell grants you support cover, at most, a third. Why are Democrats and Republicans leaving college much further out of reach for average families than it was under President Reagan or President Nixon? Can you please fix that?” — Anna, aged 15, Baltimore.

“Dear President Obama: I live in Chicago. My parents don’t have much money. Our school has holes in the roof and rats in the classrooms. Plus the heating doesn’t work, so we shiver in our seats all winter, even with coats on. A lot of our teachers haven’t been properly trained and don’t know much about the subject they’re teaching. Everyone tells us there’s no money to fix these things. But I just learned that the government guarantees 30 percent real increases in starting Social Security benefits for every new generation of retirees — increases that will cost trillions of dollars in the years ahead. How come you support big increases in these benefits for older people, but no one can find any money for us to have decent teachers or facilities? Why isn’t there a ‘trust fund’ for any of the things kids need?” — Santiago, aged 14, Chicago.

“Dear President Obama: Wow! I learned this week we spend more on our military than the next 13 nations combined. We spend almost six times more than China and nearly 14 times more than Russia. I also heard we have no money to fix our roads, bridges, sewer systems or the electric grid. Here’s an idea: what if we just spent five times more than China and 12 times more than Russia? Wouldn’t that be enough? We’d save $100 billion a year that we could use for these other things. Who decides this stuff anyway?” — Sofia, aged 11, Miami.

“Dear President Obama: We learned in school that more than 20 percent of American children live in poverty, a bigger percentage than just about any other big nation. That’s close to 15 million kids. In Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Austria the numbers are 5 percent to 8 percent. How come we’re so different in the way we treat children? Why aren’t you doing anything serious about this?” — Jimmy, aged 13, Portland. 

“Dear President Obama: I keep hearing my parents and their friends say, ‘Your generation is screwed.’ What do they mean by that?  Please write me back.” — Jing, aged 11, San Francisco.      

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