The U.S. likes to think that it’s number one, but when it comes to child poverty in the developed world, it’s literally at the bottom of the pile. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) just released a ranking of developed countries by the percent of children who live in poverty, and the U.S. clocks in at number 34 out of 35, only beating out Romania:
More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line, which UNICEF defines as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median. The United States ranks 34th of the 35 countries surveyed, above only Romania and below virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
[T]he picture looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall. The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the “child poverty gap,” which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.
Alarmingly, the United States also scores second-to-last on this measurement, with the average poor child living in a home that makes 36 percent less than the relative poverty line. Only Italy has a wider gap.
These numbers should raise the alarm about child poverty in America and spark action to reduce poverty. But we’re in the midst of doing just the opposite. Sequestration, the package of across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March, will take a big bite out of many programs that help the poor, which experts predict will increase poverty and make it deeper for those already living below the line. Low-income children have already been kicked out of Head Start thanks to sequestration, and other programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), public housing and housing vouchers, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) are also slated to get slashed.
While Obama’s latest budget includes investments in education and job creation, as well as $75 billion to fund universal preschool, it also includes $100 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, the portion of the budget that funds many programs for the poor. While the numbers on child poverty make an urgent case for investing more in children and low-income families, the political climate only seems poised to keep cutting government spending.