What's Fair in America

REMINDERS of unsolved domestic problems are springing up regularly for Americans: renewed efforts by the administration and Congress to reduce the infant mortality rate in the United States; a nationwide survey released last week indicating that 5.5 million children in the US go to bed hungry every day; news reports showing that health-care providers shy away from the underfunded Medicaid program for the poor. Another reminder just down the road: the report of the National Commission on Children, due later this spring. The commission has spent two years studying the various problems facing children in the US, from family breakup to poor schools. Its makeup is bipartisan, and its report is likely to be filled with specific recommendations on issues like welfare reform.

What usually follows in the wake of these reminders and recommendations is sad commentary on the country's lack of ``political will'' to do anything about the problems. But how true is that perception?

Are Americans really willing to live with the knowledge that over 5 million children in their midst may be going hungry? The survey by an advocacy group, the Food Research and Action Center, requires follow-up efforts to confirm the extent of the problem. But at the least, it suggests some rethinking of current food-aid programs like food stamps and school lunches to see why they don't help more youngsters get basic nutrition.

Can the country really coexist with the persistent poverty and social disintegration threatening a large part of its black population? About a third of African-Americans have remained below the poverty line for the last 20 years. True, many have made it into the middle class and the suburbs, but core poverty in the cities is more desperate than ever.

The answer to such questions has to be ``no,'' because these conditions undercut Americans' conception of a country that cares about giving everyone a chance to develop into a productive citizen.

What's at stake isn't really someone else's, or some other group's, problems, but a fundamental question of fairness.

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