I should have known we were in for it when, in kindergarten, the first kid who lost a tooth joyfully reported the tooth fairy had left an iPod under his pillow. “I hope I get a Wii when I lose a tooth!” my kid said, likely imagining the piles of wares that could be wrought after losing a whole mouth of choppers.
We live in one of the richest neighborhoods in one of the most affluent towns in North Carolina. We adore the well tended greenways and abundant cultural activities afforded by our proximity to wealth. What we don’t love is the socioeconomic barriers faced by our children when their friends have boats, mansions, and trips to Europe while we have…decidedly less.
One class divider that’s been particularly difficult to explain is why, when the mystical personages of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or any of their friends visit our neighbors they leave behind quite a bit more than when they drop by our charming-but-tiny abode. So far we’ve stuck with hard-to-believe platitudes such as, “they bring what they think you’ll need! They know how good you are at playing outside so they know you don’t need a TV for your room.”
We’re lucky. We have warm beds, full bellies, and we never want for much. Our kids might cock an eyebrow at our crappy excuses about Santa’s inequities, but they never go without. What about the 20% of North Carolina children who go to bed hungry every night? What do we as a society say to them about a magical figure who could fill their stockings (and their pantries), yet apparently refuses to?
It’s a hard question, and I think it’s one without an easy answer. We can’t visit every house of every child in need to make sure he or she wakes up to magic, but we can’t forget these kids either. The first, most important, step is recognizing the income inequality present in our state. Hundreds of thousands of moms, dads, and kids, barely make it through each day. We often don’t see them because we are isolated in our cultures of plentitude, but be assured, they are there.
We must fight to give these parents fair wages, by raising our state minimum hourly wage to $10.10. Then we must assure that more families stay healthy, by expanding Medicaid to the 250,000-plus low income workers who need it. We must fully fund our public schools so our kids are cared for by teachers who make enough to want to stay, and we must fight against any policies that seek to shift resources from those who have less to those who have more.
This time of year, so many of us adopt a family for gifts, or bring food to those in need. Those are both wonderful actions, but they are not nearly enough. If you are warm, your lights are on, and you are reading this from a computer you own, then you are benefiting from a system that unfairly punishes our state’s poorest, most needy kids.
Until we change the system, Santa’s going to keep skipping the stockings hung with care by those who really need him. The Easter Bunny will continue to hop on past the homes where a few jellybeans could make a kid’s year. And the tooth fairy is going to continue to leave consumer electronics under the pillows of little boys and girls who already have plenty, while leaving the rest behind. It’s just not fair, and it’s ours to change.