WASHINGTON-In an often expressed dream for a better America, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called upon Americans to honor “all God’s children” and their rights to equality and justice. His powerful voice and leadership would be welcomed in the turbulent world around us.

Forty-three-years after the March on Washington, Dr. King’s dream of equality for all remains unrealized – the impact of racism persists and children of color still live with the consequences of the racial divide embedded in American society. Our leaders face mounting fiscal challenges, yet we urge the nation not to abandon children in need. As the struggling economy brings fear and despair to families and communities, America must marshal its resources to assure that our children have opportunities to thrive.

There is an intersection between Dr. King’s dream and efforts by government, non-profit advocates and communities working to improve the quality of life for vulnerable children.

Recent census data soundly demonstrates the challenges we face, as a nation, in assuring that future generations can succeed. The poverty rate for children in the U.S. is at 20.7 percent, with 35.7 percent of African-American children living in poverty, 33.1 percent of Hispanic children, 17.7 percent of white children and 14 percent of Asian-American children.

Even more disturbing is that those numbers are rapidly increasing. The census also found that 1.4 million children fell into poverty for the first time in 2009.

Efforts to revive the economy will grow even more difficult in the future if the nation doesn’t address child poverty. The Center for American Progress says that in 2007, even before the recession, the economy took a $500 billion hit from child poverty because of increased costs for health care and criminal justice, and decreases in productivity. In fact, economists estimate that child poverty resulted in a 4 percent decrease in the U.S. gross domestic product.

But the statistics don’t tell the entire story. There is an emotional toll on Americans when we recognize that our nation is failing our children. We cannot relegate millions of children to a future without opportunities, a destiny of poverty and social exclusion. That is not the American Dream, and it is an anathema to Dr. King’s dream for our nation.