Robert B. Reich
The "fiscal cliff" isn't nearly the biggest cliff we face -- if we're talking about dangerous precipices looming on the horizon. Here are three:
The child poverty cliff
A staggering number of our children are impoverished. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 percent to 21 percent.
Last year, according to the
Yet federal programs to help children and lower-income families -- such as food stamps, federal aid for poor school districts, Pell grants, child health care, subsidized lunches, child nutrition, prenatal and postnatal care,
It seems as if no one in
The states, meanwhile, have been laying off teachers and social workers, ending preschool and after-school programs, and cutting local family services. Twenty-three states reduced spending on education this year, much of it on poor schools.
Yet unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, America will soon have a significant population of under-educated and desperate adults.
The baby boomer health-care cliff
Health-care costs already take 18 percent of our entire economy, and we're soon approaching a cliff that will require far more. Between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar.
This is the major reason the federal budget deficit is projected to explode in future years -- not
These costs, in turn, are the result of a mind-bogglingly inefficient system. We're spending almost two and a half times more on health care per person than any other rich nation, yet the typical American doesn't live as long as the citizens of those nations, and we have a higher rate of infant mortality.
The Affordable Care Act will reduce these inefficiencies, but not nearly enough.
The president also has to lead the way in using
But the real health-care cliff can only be avoided if we adopt a single-payer health-care system.
The climate cliff
The third big cliff we're heading toward is climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped 3 percent last year and are expected to jump another 2.6 percent this year, according to scientists who are carefully measuring the atmosphere.
This puts the human race perilously close to the tipping point when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea levels rise, and the amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small. Some say we're already there.
Yet many Republicans (and their financial patrons, such as billionaires
Not even the Obama administration is any longer pushing for a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, or a carbon tax that would deter excessive use of carbon-based energy.
Yet unless we act to reduce carbon emissions, other major emitters around the world won't do so on their own. The only binding pact so far is the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. never joined. And we took scant leadership at the international climate talks that just concluded in
While the so-called "fiscal cliff" could be dangerous, these other three cliffs pose far greater perils.
Yet we seem unable to avoid hurtling over them because American politics is obsessed by the federal budget deficit, paralyzed by ideological fights over the size of government, and overwhelmed by the power of big money.
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