Children as Infrastructure

Children are our infrastructure.


America is a country that is fairly young by country existence standards. Born in 1776 and existing to 2017 that makes 241 years of the United States of America as a democratic sovereign nation. In 1776 there were approximately 2.5 million people living in the U.S.’ first 13 colonies – states. Today in 2017, that number has grown to more than 300 million people in 50 states. In terms of population, that is growth by a factor of 125. If you average that growth over the 241 years of existence it amounts to an average growth of about 1.2 million people per year.


American society and its cities, roadways, waterways, and other elements have grown in complexity and scale during these last 241 years. The wikipedia notion of infrastructure searched this day, 9.4.17, reads;


Infrastructure refers to the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or other area,[1] including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.[2] It typically characterises technical structures such as roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth, and can be defined as “the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.”[3]


This definition suggests that we commonly use this word “ infrastructure” to describe the man-made physical systems that we create to undergird our society’s functions. It concludes by by breaking the ultimate purpose of having a society into three key themes;


  • Enable
  • Sustain
  • Enhance …. societal  living conditions.


These three themes are key to the wiki-definition. Enable signifying what allows the condition to be. Sustain signifying keeping what is enabled going, and Enhance signifying make the conditions better.


Recently I have been considering my wife and I’s last 32 years of work and service to children in public schools as an effort in enabling, sustaining, and enhancing the “ultimate infrastructure.”

Just thinking of children and infrastructure together seems an activity worthy of the investment. More traditionally, one might think of variety of the physical and social service infrastructure in terms of how they support the development of children. Hospitals, schools, day care, parks, and other basic infrastructure seem all linked to growing the next generation of human citizens to reach the age of adulthood prepared to enable, sustain, and enhance the society they were born or immigrated to.


This post puts the notion physical facilities and systems aside and stops to ponder the actual children of America as infrastructure. They too are physical systems however this post looks at them as fully human systems and more importantly, people.


America has been said to be failing itself in recent decades in terms of sustaining or enhancing or facilities infrastructure. Roads, ports, bridges, subways, airports and the lack of high speed rails are commonly described as less than adequate by people from across the political spectrum whether they believe government or private investment should solve the problem. While there seems political agreement on our current -”needs improvement”- condition it is notable that investments and the condition of our “ultimate infrastructure” children, is less commonly agreed upon or emphasized. On one hand we invest the majority of our state budgets across the country to schools, on the other hand, we find the statistics on youth poverty, literacy, health, nutrition, educational attainment, and general well-being to be equally or even more problematic than our failing bridges, water treatment systems, and pot-holed streets.


In 2017, more than 44% of children live close to the poverty line and 21% live in families in poverty. According to,


  1. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  3. Students who don’t read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school…..
  4. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
  5. Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

Recent census data suggests that we have enhanced our nation’s achievements in terms of college education levels. It suggests some 34% of Americans now have a 4 year college education which is up dramatically from 1940 when we managed only 4.6%. In a sense, we have increased this aspect of the human infrastructure by a factor of 7.4%. 2017, however, is obviously a different time in terms of economics, the work world, and what represents the minimum bar for being basically educated to enter the workforce. It is now fairly easy for people across the political spectrum to recognize that a high school diploma has lots its value in the economy as the  four year degree has taken its place. One can think of the infrastructure enhancements in education growing in relation to the demands of the other aspects of the society. Just as two lane roads worked well for many transportation needs and demands in the years between the car’s invention and the 1950s, it was recognized that construction of interstate, multilane highways was an enhancement to road infrastructure that was needed to keep pace with other demands in the society.

These connected facts taking us from 1776 to 2017 demonstrate that different questions should be asked about our children as infrastructure. In some ways, when we average all the children in the country together and state the related %s….our country seems to have enabled, sustained, and enhanced our living conditions at satisfactory rates. When we begin to ask questions such as; which parts of the infrastructure, which groups of children, we open up a 241 year dilemma. While some statistics reported that revolutionary period boasted nearly 100% literacy among the new country’s residents, these data skipped the inclusion slaves and other peoples living in the states. Thus, the question broader questions of which children as infrastructure are we investing in and which benefit?

Historical investments or diminishments in children across the world are also informative. Following the Korean war in the 1950s, thousands of Korean children left their country through international adoption. Since 1987, the country, in recognizing its lack of children deficit, began to legislate quotas on outgoing children and incentivize the sustaining and development of its youth. Other informed countries like Scotland, are realizing that investments in children, the “ultimate infrastructure,” are in the interests of their society as a whole, their “Getting it right for every child” initiatives are testament to this new mindset.

This rudimentary pondering of children suggests a number of persuasive elements for people considering investing in and thinking of children as the “ultimate infrastructure.” If folks need more to persuade them, several other thoughts come to mind;

As we get older as a society, who will care for us in old age?

As our society becomes more complex, how are we preparing the next generation to sustain much less enhance what we have created?

How are growing well-being differences in sub-groups of our children related to current and future living conditions for all citizens?

Are crime,safety, life-expectancy, quality of life related to the quantity and quality of investment in children?