Poverty: In the U.S., That’s Kids Stuff

UNICEF finds U.S. kids are second poorest in developed world.

Homeless children and homeless families at the Union Mission homeless shelter in Los Angeles
The ranks of homeless children in America are growing. (Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

Small government proponents like to depict America as a nation taxed to the brink by handouts—spiraling toward socialism thanks to armies of welfare queens and their taxpayer-funded progeny. Most of us intuitively know this rhetoric is dangerous hyperbole, but a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on child poverty in the developed world reveals just how stingy America really is toward its most vulnerable citizens.

In relation to the rest of the developed world, the U.S. government is doing very little to address the issue of child poverty.

According to the UNICEF report, the U.S. has the second worst rate of child poverty in the developed world, trailing only Romania.

23.1 percent of American children are considered poverty-stricken—compared with only 4.7 percent of children in Iceland at the top of the list.

“Unfortunately, this report isn’t a surprise,” Patti Hassler, Vice President of Communications and Outreach for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), tells TakePart. “But it is shameful. We have the second highest child poverty rate in the world among developed nations. The past few years have been devastating for families across the United States.”

In relation to the rest of the developed world, the U.S. government is doing very little to address the issue of child poverty. As a nation, the U.S. spends barely more than 1 percent of its GDP on public assistance—in the forms of tax breaks, cash payouts and social services—to families with children. That’s fifth worst in the developed world—trailing only Malta, Greece, Latvia and Lithuania.

In Ireland, for example, upward of 40 percent of children are considered to be living in poverty based purely on their family income level. After taxes, subsidies and social services programs are accounted for, however, that number drops to less than 10 percent. Here in the U.S., 25 percent of children meet the definition of poverty, and 23 percent stay that way despite government assistance.

“Politicians are cutting critical assistance to families, while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans,” says Hassler.

A lack of public assistance isn’t the only cause of child poverty here in the U.S. Our propensity to lock children up is a major contributing factor.  Statistically speaking, 1 in 3 African American and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 will be imprisoned during their lifetime. The CDF’s Cradle to Prison program is working with states and school systems to ease zero tolerance school discipline policies that funnel children into the criminal justice system—virtually condemning them to a life of poverty.

Meanwhile, while America seems to have endless resources to incarcerate children, according to Time magazine, two-thirds of the 39 states with early-childhood education programs cut spending to those programs in 2011. Child poverty advocates are hopeful that President Obama’s proposed $85 million boost in funding to Head Start—which funds early childhood education programs—will help reverse this trend in 2013 and stem the tide of youth poverty and incarceration.

“We know what works for children here in the United States,” says Hassler. “We just need to build the public will to do it.”

What does it say about the United States that so many of its children live below the poverty line? Leave you feelings in COMMENTS.

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