Philip Alston, the UN’s watchdog on poverty and inequality around the world, lays out the brutal statistics on the damage wrought by child poverty in one of the world’s richest countries:
- 1. 18% of American children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty in 2016, making up almost a third of the total poor;
- 2. more than one in five homeless people are children, including 1.3 million school students who were without a home during the academic year;
- 3. infant mortality, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50% higher than other advanced nations;
- 4. The US ranks 25th out of 29 industrialised countries in terms of the amount it invests in young children.
- He highlights the personal suffering of millions of children who are left without food, homes and futures.
- “This is tragic and unconscionable, to treat so many children in this way, but it is also a totally self-defeating economic policy,” Alston said in an interview with the Guardian. “The ramifications are clear and considerable – the US is building a future citizenry that is under-nourished, under-educated, under-stimulated, and that in turn will rebound dramatically on the society itself.” Alston points out that the US has one of the lowest rates of social mobility between generations of any rich country – not least because child poverty is so prevalent. “We know children who grow up in poverty have very little prospect of escaping from it,” he said. “That’s being locked in, here, ensuring the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.” Alston, said, “Parents explained they had to decide between buying their child a Christmas present or saving it for essential food or shoes. There was no money to spare, and anything that was done out of the ordinary, such as buying a present, would penalize the child,” he said.
A new report by Save the Children on the US finds that children in America are at least twice as likely to be poor as children in Norway, Iceland, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden, and Germany. That disparity rises to more than five times as likely to be poor when compared to children in Finland and Denmark.
Carolyn Miles, president and chief executive of Save the Children US, said the food stamp program was critical for struggling families. “This is certainly not the time to be cutting these benefits in America.” Carolyn Miles recently returned from Duncan, Mississippi, a small town of about 500 people in the heart of depressed cotton country where a stunning 80% of the children live in poverty. “This area is completely desolate, it’s a really rough place to live for kids. Families can’t put food on the table every day. Every single child in local schools is on the federal school lunch program, many schools serve breakfast and some even dinner." Save the Children works with Mississippi children to try to improve literacy rates. They have found that by the time they start kindergarten at age four, many kids are already 18 months behind the national average educational ability. “We are trying to get these kids a shot, just to have a chance at an even playing field,” she said.