Fact of the Week: US Has Less Child Poverty than Romania, but is Worse than 28 Other Developed Nations
The U.S. ranks 28th out of 29 developed countries surveyed in terms of relative child poverty, placing it between Latvia and Romania, according to a report by UNICEF. More than 23% of American children live in households where disposable income is less than half of the national median, earning the U.S. the undesirable second-to-last spot on the list.
The U.S. also took the runner-up to the biggest loser spot in UNICEF’s rankings of the depth of child poverty, or the gap between the poverty line as they defined it above and the median income of those below that line. For children in the U.S., this means that the kids who fell below the poverty line fell far – on average, almost 40% below that line.
In addition, Mark Rank, professor of social welfare at Washington University and noted poverty expert, said last year in a New York Times opinion piece that half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household poor enough to qualify for food stamps for a period of time.
But this is America, and we’re approaching Independence Day. And not just from King George. It has always been a good time to celebrate the economic independence we all aspire to – that no matter where you start out, you can pull yourself up by your own boot straps, work hard, play by the rules, and be the next ‘rags to riches’ success story. In our country, no matter what your parents had (or didn’t), you can still achieve the American Dream, right? Sadly, this doesn’t happen as often as we think. In fact, if you’re born into poverty, the odds are stacked – quite formidably – against you. Research from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 43% of Americans raised at the lowest rung of the family income ladder are stuck there as adults, and 70% never even make it to the middle of the ladder. And international studies have repeatedly shown that the U.S. has less mobility among the rungs than most other developed nations.
Poverty is far from limited only to those born into it – Mark Rank’s research shows that 54% of Americans will spend a year in or near poverty – and it isn’t always a life sentence. Some are thrown into poverty by an unexpected event like the loss of a job or an illness and then climb out of poverty when these situations are resolved. But when our elected officials choose to invest in things like tax havens for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy instead of investing in services to help families raise themselves and their children out of poverty, we certainly make the climb up the ladder that much harder and more unlikely.
As we approach the upcoming July 4th holiday, we at CHN are thinking about how the day relates to the work we and our network of organizations do to address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations. We strive together to promote ‘Economic Independence’ and ‘Freedom from Want.’ As the research above shows, there’s still more work to do. But like those who came before us, we’re not giving up.
As part of our blog community, we invite you to share your thoughts on what July 4th means to you, your family, and/or the work you do. What more should our country be doing to promote Economic Independence? What would Freedom from Want look like in your community?