Last year, five infants in California died as a result of whooping cough.
The California Health Department declared an "epidemic" and urged families to vaccinate their children.
Last month, new numbers were released showing the poverty rate at its highest point in at least two decades. An inoculation would be handy.
Before the Great Recession, the U.S. had the highest poverty rate among Western industrialized countries. Since the Great Recession, the circumstances for America's families have deteriorated.
Poverty rates are rising, and for children, poverty is growing swiftly.
From 2009-2010 the number of children living in poverty in California rose by almost 200,000 children or by 9 percent. Children living in "extreme poverty" were hardest hit. In a one-year period alone, the number of children living in "extreme poverty" rose by 16 percent.
If child poverty were similar to a common cold with an occasional sneeze, our metaphorical response would be to "pass the tissue." But the effects of child poverty are far more serious.
Research conducted over the past 30 years provides convincing evidence that children raised in poverty are likely to experience a range of significant health and developmental hazards.
Poor children are more likely to be born prematurely or with low-birth weight. Most sobering: poor children are more likely to die in the first year of life. They more frequently experience
Some evidence suggests that the adverse physical and psychological conditions associated with child poverty can become physiologically embedded. That is, child poverty can affect the architecture of the brain.
To compound their disadvantage, age, duration and depth matter.
That is, children who experience deeper poverty for longer periods of time and during their earliest years appear to suffer most. For that reason, we should be alarmed that the group suffering the highest rates of poverty in the U.S. are children ages 6 and younger.
At the peak of the whooping cough epidemic, approximately 1,000 children were diagnosed with the illness. A public education campaign was launched and aggressive efforts to contain the spread of the disease were established.
Today, well over 2 million children in California are suffering under the conditions of poverty. How many kids is 2 million?
Picture the government response if all of the children in all 12 Bay Area counties contracted whooping cough.
At what point do we call child poverty a public health disaster?
When nearly one-quarter of all children are living in poverty, isn't that an epidemic of staggering proportions?
California legislators face challenging questions as they grapple with another round of budget decisions this year. I suppose they could offer a polite "gesundheit." But it would be helpful if they put on their lab coats and got to work on concocting an immunization for kids.
Jill Duerr Berrick is the Zellerbach Family Foundation Professor of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley.