‘Girly men’

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on one of the more colorful sound bites we’ve heard in recent weeks.

(Kunin) Arnold Schwarzenegger relishes the expression, “girly men.” At the Republican convention last week he threw out this taunt, shouting, “To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy I say, ‘Don’t be economic girly men!'”

The fact is that more girls and boys, men and women, have good reason to be pessimistic about the economy.

A little recognized report released by the United States Census Bureau recently gives the disturbing statistics. For the third straight year, the bureau reported that those at the bottom and in the middle class have had the hardest time in this declining economy. The gap in income between rich and poor widened, and the wage gap between men and women widened for the first time in four years.

But the biggest impact of these dreary statistics is on the children. The national poverty rate rose to 12.5 percent. That dispassionate statistic means that more children are poor: less food to eat, fewer clothes to wear for school, and less security in life.

The number of uninsured rose significantly in the last year. Almost 16 percent of Americans did not have health insurance, up from 14.2 percent in 2000.

The most discouraging part of this picture is the children who are without health insurance coverage. The biggest reason for loss of health care is that more companies are not providing health care coverage for their workers, largely because of the high cost. Premiums have increased by about $2,600 since 2000, adding significantly to the cost of business. How does a family on a limited income afford to pay health insurance premiums that average about $9000 a year?

The families that are hit hardest are those headed by single women. Their poverty rate rose to 28 percent, up from 26.5 percent in 2002. We have to translate these figures into the lives of real people. Imagine the anguish of a parent who has to debate long and hard whether to bring an ailing child to the doctor, and has to delay that visit until there is an emergency. And think what it feels like not to be able to buy the necessary medicine to help your child.

In Vermont, we have shown that it doesn’t have to be this way. Virtually all of Vermont’s children are covered by insurance, in large part because of a program, started during my administration in 1989, called Dr. Dynasaur. If we can do it, so can the nation.

We will not achieve this goal and others to help low income Americans by mocking them through name calling, like “girly men.” It takes a real man to take action on behalf of those who are most vulnerable: our children, our single parents, and all those who find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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