USA: Child Poverty Scandal FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 22 Nov 1998 14:55:41 -0400


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FWD  PNEWS  Feb  8, 1998

           USA: CHILD POVERTY SCANDAL
                 by Valdas Anelauskas


The percentage of children living in poverty is perhaps the
most global and widely used indicator of child well-being in
any nation. And child poverty is not an act of God. It is
only a reflection of society's political, economical and
value choices. What can be said of a nation that does not
assume responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable
among its young citizens? America is such a nation.

The poverty rate among children in America today is
enormous. Malnutrition is unbelievably high and just getting
worse and worse. The same is true with infant mortality.
It's unique in the civilized world. According to the latest
statistics on poverty in the United States, released in 1996
by the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.3 million children in America
are living in abject poverty. Most of them do not have a
future, and they know they do not have a future...

And it is the direct consequence of the official U.S. social
policies. The steadily rising trend of child poverty in this
country first of all is the fruit of a capitalist economic
system itself, but also it is the result of society's
inadequate spending on children. Less than 5 percent of the
U.S. federal budget is devoted to programs that in some way
benefit children, whereas all other rich countries give
children a much higher priority. For example, overall
spending on child well-being is about $230 billion a year in
France, compared with only $146 billion in the United
States. In fact, most Western European nations spend two or
even three times as much as the U.S. on families with
children, which explains why so many more American than
European children live in poverty. "Industrialized countries
vary in their level of generosity toward families with
children, but the U.S. is the least generous of all," points
out Elizabeth Duskin, chief social policy economist at the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a
Paris-based economic research center.

This lack of generosity is why poverty, hunger, homelessness
and ill-health are the lot of millions of youngsters in
today's America. Compared to other industrial nations, the
United States has by far the highest percentage of children
living in poverty: 20.8 percent in 1995. In most other rich
countries, child poverty rates are only a small fraction of
the U.S. rate. In Western Europe those rates typically hover
between the 2 to 7 percent level. So, the United States
today has a child poverty rate that is four times the
average of Western European countries. America's
extraordinary high child poverty rate is not some
unavoidable attribute of a modern industrial society that
cannot be escaped. This is highly unusual and represents
unconscionable choices that this society has made and
misguided priorities Americans have set. Other advanced
nations with fewer resources and often similar economic and
social problems have placed a much higher priority on
protecting and investing in their children.

Therefore, by comparison with all other rich nations, the
United States lifts a far smaller proportion of low-income
families with children out of poverty. Actually, the U.S.,
France and Britain would have almost a similar percentage of
children who are considered poor if based on parents' income
-- somewhere between 24 percent and 29 percent. But after
receiving tax breaks and all the social benefits, only 5.7
percent of French children and 7.3 percent of British
children are still considered poor, while nearly 21 percent
of U.S. children still suffer in severe poverty. American
children are twice as likely to be poor as Canadian
children, three times as likely to be poor as British
children, four times as likely to be poor as French
children, and 7 to 13 times more likely to be poorer than
German, Dutch, and Swedish children. Thus, compared to
children of all other advanced rich countries, American
children are doing, I would say, extremely badly today.

More than that, child poverty rates in the United States
rose rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, while they sharply
declined elsewhere in the industrialized world. The reality
is that the United States of America is the only rich
industrial country where the number of poor children has
increased significantly in recent years. During the last few
decades child poverty became entrenched here on a scale
unprecedented in the postwar period and unmatched in the
advanced world. The 20-year growth of the number of American
children actually living in deep poverty is amazing. It
climbed from 15.4 percent in 1974 to 20.8 percent in 1995.
More than 14 million American children -- the equivalent of
a medium-sized country -- are now despairingly poor. They
live in families that lack the money to pay the rent for
decent housing and put food on the table. Hundreds of
thousands of American children are homeless today, and many
more than that are hungry. This gives us an idea how "well"
American society is treating its youngest members. The very
fact that in one of the world's richest countries 14.3
million of children live in abject misery says how
"advanced" this society is...

As a matter of fact, one out of every five children in the
U.S. lives in destitution today. For children under six, the
group most vulnerable to all the negative impacts of
poverty, the rate is even higher: one in four. A study
released recently by the National Center for Children in
Poverty at Columbia University's School of Public Health
reports that 6.1 million American children under the age of
six -- almost the population of Chicago and Los Angeles
combined -- lived in severe poverty in 1994. It has almost
doubled since 1979 when the number of children under age six
living in poverty in the United States was 3.5 million. The
poverty rate for children under age six in this country is
now higher than for any other age group of the U.S.
population. It was well over double the rate for adults or
the elderly in 1994. Actually, nearly half of all children
under age six (a shocking 45 percent) lived in poor or
nearly poor families in 1994, according to this report. In
addition to those 6.1 million who lived in actual poverty,
another 4.8 million children under six lived in near
poverty, which means the family's income is at or below 185
percent of the official federal poverty line. Furthermore,
according to the Children's Defense Fund, more than half of
all poor children in America now live in extreme poverty, in
families with incomes below 50% of the official poverty
line. This proportion has also risen steadily and doubled --
from 6 percent in 1975 (the first year for which data on
extreme poverty in the U.S. is available), to its present
record-high level of 12 percent in 1994.

Further, many American cities now have child poverty rates
of over 35 percent, or even over 50 percent for black
children. Nearly 600,000 people or one family out of five,
for example, are living far below the official poverty line
in Chicago. The child poverty rate stands there at 33.3
percent, one child out of three. But in the Oakland area of
Chicago 84 percent of all children live in poverty. In New
York City - the richest city in the world, there is
inequality greater than in Guatemala, and 40% of the
children in NYC are now living below the poverty line.

Many Americans still believe that poor people don't work or
that those people who work are not poor, and that people who
are poor just need to work... But the truth is that more
than a third of poor children in America today live in
working families where at least one parent works year-round,
says the 1996 Kids Count Data Book, a compilation of
statistics on the well-being of children released annually
by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In 1994, the United States
had 5.6 million poor children living in families with
incomes way below the official poverty line despite parents
working full time 50 or more weeks that year. This is up
from 3.4 million two decades ago. The Baltimore-based
foundation points out that children of the working poor is
the fastest-growing segment of the nation's children who
live in severe poverty. Besides, a majority of all poor
children under the age of six -- 62 percent -- lived in
working families, contrary to the commonly-held belief that
a parent's job will keep children out of poverty. In the
years since 1989, the number of youngest children living in
these so-called working-poor families has jumped 30 percent.
And we continue to see expanding millions of desperate
American families who are unable to protect their kids from
poverty. More and more children in the United States are
growing up despairingly poor regardless of their parents'
work efforts.

It must be said that the reality of young child poverty in
this country extends far beyond the stereotypical image of
the poor minority child in an urban setting. The fact that
nearly half of all America's children under age six live in
poverty or near poverty manifestly demonstrates that young
child poverty here is a mainstream occurrence affecting
children from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, from all
types of residential areas, and from all regions of the
United States. As a matter of fact, during the last few
decades the young child poverty rate in the U.S. has grown
at a much faster pace in the suburbs than in cities and
twice as fast among whites as among blacks. Contrary to
stereotypes, more poor children in America today live
outside cities -- in suburbs and small towns or rural areas
-- than in cities.

** End of text from cdp:headlines **

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