Get Off Our Butts!

The solution to childhood poverty takes Herculean efforts, enormous investment and a driving national will, so everyone needs to be a hero. But the place to start is right here: getting off our butts and doing something.
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This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization's Valentine's Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more or to purchase the cards, click here.

When we were kids, my mother -- Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- asked my siblings and me the same question at the end of every day: "What did you do to make the world a better place today?"

It's a question to which I usually didn't have an answer. But, reflecting back, she wasn't really looking for one. It was a question that answered itself.

She was telling us to get off our butts and do something.

She knew what she was talking about. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the Special Olympics. And she shared a common bond for action and social justice with my dad, Sargent Shriver, who founded the Peace Corps and led the War on Poverty for President Johnson.

They were relentless in their pursuit to make the United States a better and fairer place.

Not a lot of people know this, but the War on Poverty worked. Until we surrendered.

Before President Johnson and my dad started making deep investments in anti-poverty programs like Head Start, about one quarter of all children and the elderly lived in poverty.

Ten years later, that number dropped to about 15 percent for both groups.

The elderly poverty rate kept decreasing and is now at a historic low of nine percent. But the percentage of kids living in poverty today has returned to mid-1960s levels. I believe that's so because kids don't have access to the political process the way other Americans do.

Childhood poverty doesn't just cause misery for the most vulnerable of us, it sets them up for failure in school, in their health and, frankly, for the rest of their lives.

Kids living in poverty are developmentally a year and a half behind other kids at age four, they're less likely to be reading at grade level in elementary school and, as they get older, are more likely to drop out of high school and commit crime and domestic violence.

Alternately, The Brookings Institute found that a meaningful investment in early childhood education -- the key to a lifetime of learning and success -- would add $2 trillion to our gross domestic product within a generation.

We need more heroes today to reverse the childhood poverty crisis that threatens a new generation of kids.

President Obama has committed truly meaningful new investments for early childhood education and First Lady Michelle Obama is fighting the obesity epidemic that is disproportionately affecting kids living in poverty, for whom empty calories are cheaper and more easily available than nutritious ones.

In my daily work, I see heroes around me every day.

In the boardroom, there's Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, Ernie Herrman, the President of the TJX Companies, and Jerry Storch, the CEO of Toys"R"Us, who have made fighting childhood poverty here at home a top priority for their companies.

I see colleagues like Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund, Bruce Lesley of First Focus, Cornelia Grumman of the First Five Years Fund and Irwin Redlener of The Children's Health Fund.

There's the staff at Save the Children, who are on the frontline in nearly 200 of the most impoverished communities in the U.S., like Clay County, Kentucky.

I get to work alongside some of the strongest leaders in Congress including Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Congressmen Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Todd Platts (R-PA).

There are so many more to name but there are three others who are very important to me. They are talented and dedicated artists who serve as ambassadors for Save the Children's U.S. Programs: Jennifer Garner, Randy Jackson and Julianne Moore.

Julianne's Valentine's Day project is under way right now and as she says: "We have to buy these cards for our kids anyway. Why not buy them for a great cause?"

I hope you'll order a box or two of cards right now and help kids living in poverty.

Everyone needs to be a hero since the solution to childhood poverty takes Herculean efforts, enormous investment and a driving national will. But the place to start is right here: getting off our butts and doing something.