A report from UNICEF reveals America ranks #4 in the world among so-called “advanced” nations for child poverty. As observed by Paul Bucheitt from Alternet, “the numbers are staggering.” Meanwhile, the GOP aims to cut $5.5 trillion in spending for various programs, including food stamps.

What’s wrong with this picture? And why do so few of our nation’s political and business leaders even seem to care?

While the GOP stands out for their flamboyantly callous cruelty, the Democrats are hardly blameless. President Bill Clinton and others who backed “welfare reform” — also known the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act — back in 1996, made little provision for jobs that offer no hope of ever making enough to pay the bills and get off welfare, or for an economic collapse as severe as the one in 2008. And since then, few champions have emerged from either party. Conservatives have succeeded in demonizing welfare and the poor, and liberals have let them do it.

But here’s the truth: An awful lot of people on welfare are children and the parents struggling to support them — many of whom actually do have jobs.Alas, their jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet.

In UNICEF’s survey of “advanced” nations  (OECD countries), America ranks an appalling 26 out of 29 when it comes to the material well-being of our children . Only the far less advantaged former Eastern Bloc countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania lag behind us in providing the wherewithal for children to grow up into healthy, educated, and productive adults.

“[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

Well, at least we’re a full three nations removed from third world child poverty levels. Yay.

Child poverty in the U.S. compared with other developed nations: Chart/UNICEF


Here are just a few damning facts from UNICEF’s report on how we stack up against other countries when it comes to child poverty.

  • As of 2012, 24.2 million American children were living in poverty, 1.7 million more than in 2008.
  • 18 countries managed to reduce their child poverty rates from 2008-2012, while our nation did the opposite.
  • The UNICEF report states “of all newly poor children in the OECD and/or EU, about a third are in the United States.”
  • Child poverty rates are highest in the South, plus California and Michigan (states many see as left-leaning with many programs to help the poor, but
it’s complicated).

The National Report for Education Statistics (NRES) took a survey of school-age children (ages 5-17) for 2012 and came out with findings similar to UNICEF’s report. As you can see from the map below, child poverty levels are highest in Southern states, plus California and Michigan.

Child poverty in school-age children map: National Report for Education Statistics

That’s right. Child poverty’s highest in Southern “red” states, and this is no coincidence. At both the federal and the state levels, lawmakers from the former Confederacy — plus some from Michigan and California — have proven the stingiest when it comes to funding programs that lift children out of poverty.

But wait, you might say. UNICEF’s report only covers 2008-2012, a range that begins with the year our economy melted down. Aren’t things getting better now? For some yes. For many, no. More recent research confirms a disturbing trend in child poverty that shows children and families have barely benefited from our sluggish economic recovery at all.

  • 16 million children’s families require food stamps: A January report from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals 16 million children’s families are poor enough to receive food stamps (SNAP)
even though many of their families have one or both parents working.
  • GOP-led Congress keeps slashing food stamps: Instead of helping struggling families and their children, Republicans keep screwing the poor so they can hand tax cuts to the rich. And now, they’re trying to cut food stamps again.
  • 2.5 million children homeless: A disturbing report from The National Center on Family Homelessness found 2.5 million children were homeless at some point in 2013. That’s nearly one million more than in 2010 (1.6 million). So much for our so-called economic recovery.
  • Poverty formulas are outdated: According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the way we measure poverty dates from the 1960’s, and has not kept up with skyrocketing costs for basic necessities like housing, food, transportation, health care and child care. Nor does the formula account for the fact that the cost of living varies dramatically depending on where you live.
  • Spending cuts could double the rate of childhood poverty: In his post about the Annie E. Casey study mentioned above, Robbie Couch from The Huffington Post reports that without federal safety net programs, child poverty could be twice as high.
  • Our child poverty crisis is even worse than we think: The National Center for Children in Poverty adds that today’s families need incomes of at least TWICE what the U.S. government defines as the official poverty level — $23,550 per year for a family of four — to make ends meet. That means an awful lot of families in need of help won’t get any.

The fact that the number of homeless children increased from 1.6 million to 2.5 million in 2010-2013 — while our economy was supposedly “recovering” — is highly disturbing, to say the least.

Child poverty in the U.S.: 2.5 million were homeless at some point in 2013. Chart: The National Center on Family Homelessness.


Some claim  America’s kids are still way better off than in other countries. But is that true? Although The Washington Post mentions that a household struggling on $30,000 per year is still among the the richest 1.23 percent people in the world, this writer still calls B.S. for the following reasons:

  1. As the WAPO piece on child poverty in the U.S. also mentions, it also costs more to live here compared to other countries with similar or higher levels of child poverty: “Thirty thousand dollars goes much, much further in Eritrea than it does in Kansas.”
  2. UNICEF’s rankings for other indicators of child poverty — like health and safety, education, immunization, childhood deaths, infant mortality, and low birth weight — are also appallingly low compared with other developed nations.
  3. We can’t prove the truth of that argument because — unlike other countries — we don’t even bother measuring many of UNICEF’s key indicators for children’s well-being: Like whether they ever get new clothes, shoes that fit, fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and have a clean, well-lit place to do their homework so they do well in school.
  4. Since the U.S. is much richer than Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania, we should hold ourselves to higher standards when it comes to child poverty.

No child living in a nation as rich as ours should lack the basic things they need to have a fair shot at growing up into a reasonably happy and productive adult. Even if the parents’ “bad decisions” really did cause their family to be poor, that isn’t the child’s fault,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *