STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

In the wake of Newtown tragedy, 5 statistics we can no longer ignore

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I know you don't want to read this any more than I want to write it.

The point of State of Opportunity is to talk about how we can improve life for our most vulnerable children.  We talk about education, we talk about health, we talk about public policy. We have not yet talked much about violence. I wish we didn't have to. 

What happened in Newtown is incomprehensible. We are left only with grief. 

And yet we know that what happened in Newtown is not rare. Mass shootings, we hear about all the time. Children victimized by violence, we try not to think about. 

But the sad reality is children are murdered every day in America. Consider these statistics, compiled from reports by the CDC and the Congressional Research Service

  1. 998 children under the age of 15 were murdered in 2009.
  2. 234 of those murders were committed with a gun. 
  3. 293 of the victims of those murders were babies (age 28 days - 11 months)
  4. Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for children age 1-4 and the 4th leading cause for children age 5-9 and 10-14. 
  5. 1,392 children died from a gun related injury in 2009. That number has dropped since 1993, but nearly all of the gains happened before 2000. Since then, the trend has been toward more gun-related deaths for children under 18. 

Last night, the President stood before the grieving families in Newtown and declared "These tragedies must end." 
But ending the tragedy will take more than new gun laws, or even improved mental health services. The problem goes deeper than that.

The President acknowledged as much in his speech. He offered thoughts that are frequently expressed, and rarely put to action. These are words worth remembering: 

This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we're meeting our obligations?Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.