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THE ELECTION of Ronald Reagan in 1980 signalled a full-scale attack on the needs and benefits of groups with limited political clout. The poor saw life saving social programs they had won in the past 50 years gradually stripped away their ethics and diligence impugned even their hunger termed illusory Minorities, women and gays witnessed growing discrimination in the workplace and in the government. The disabled were stripped of many of the rehabilitation programs the government had sponsored in the '60s and '70s.
Now these groups are mobilizing against the President, and fighting back. But members of the group which has arguably been the hardest-hit in the past four years cannot mobilize on their own. They have no PACs, no national recognition. They cannot march, or picket, or write books. They cannot even vote.
The children and youth of America are politically mute, and for this reason have suffered the worst onslaught from the policies of the current Administration Reagan has consistently ignored and misinterpreted the problems of children.
In the past four years. Reagan cut funds for education and student loans, child care programs, food programs, for children, and youth employment programs. He cancelled the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) which included major youth job programs while youth unemployment was growing; he tried to have child labor regulations relaxed to allow employers to demand longer hours under worse conditions, he campaigned for a sub-minimum wage for young people. And he tried to eliminate the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and finally reduced its funds by 30 percent.
William S. Loiry, a professional youth advocate, last month published a book to reveal these abuses and try to show the Administration that children and youth exist and are suffering. Anxious to get the message out, Loiry published his own book on the politics of youth. But while his effort was well-in-tentioned, The Impact of Youth remains too broad and simplistic to become a galvanizing force for change.
Loiry's book, aimed at "altering the future history by explaining the past," fails because it attempts too much. The author tries to chronicle the complete history of children and youth from the times of ancient civilizations. In 200 pages he travels through time from Mesopotamia and Sparta through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the twentieth century. In the remaining 40 pages, he finally attacks the problems of today, and tries to set up comprehensive guidelines for the future. This rush through the "rise and fall" of children ultimately undermines his own cause, Loiry, a professional political activist, has apparently not yet learned how to channel his abundant energy.
The author is torn between writing a history, a policy paper and a manifesto--and each section suffers be cause of his confusion. His history of children and youth is filled with amazing generalizations and couched in infantile language. With sentences like "children were an important part of what was happening in the American colonies," and "'make love, not war' was a popular '60s slogan, and many people did," Loiry sabotages his own credibility as a serious scholar. He seems unable to determine what audience he is speaking to.
The last section of the book, Loiry's 33 "Recommendations for the Future," suffers from similar problems. Many are nebulous and naive wishes, with no specific suggestions: he urges that "a new concept of children and youth must be developed,' "policy-making should focus on causes, and be based on the best research and data available," and "an interdependence between generations must be strengthened."
A few of the recommendations, to Loiry's credit, do manage to transcend this level. He suggests possible ways to strengthen youth advocacy groups to provide a voice for children, such as reforming IRS Tax Exemption laws to enable groups to spend more time and funds on legislative activities. He lobbies for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54's proposed 2.5 billion food stamp and child nutrition program; and he urges the United States to stay in UNESCO, an international organization which provides massive food, educational, and development aid to underdeveloped countries to "assist the world's children."
Loiry is currently stumping with the Democratic candidates, trying to win commitments for youth issues. But for all his efforts, no candidates have focused on the needs of children and young adults beyound vague references to America's "future" and "sacred trust" for coming generations.
The apparent failure of both Loiry and his book to catch fire is all the more disappointing because the issue is a real one. The facts they list speak for themselves; millions of American children are either hungry or malnourished; over one million suffer forms of child abuse each year; and over 22 million, more than 20 percent of the nation's children live in poverty. Unless these abuses are corrected, and quickly, the next generation will grow up in despair.
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