+WHO CARES? 23.1% of American children fall below the “relative poverty” rate


UICEF  – Innocenti Research Centre – Report Card 10

Measuring Child Poverty:  New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries

May 2012



Yet it is arguable that the child poverty rates is one of the most important of all indicators of a society’s health and well-being.  For the here and now, it is a measure of what is happening to some of society’s most vulnerable members.  For the years to come, it is a pointer to the well-being and cohesion of society as a whole.

In the second of the two tables presented at the above link, this report indicates that as sown in Fig. 1b A league table of relative child poverty, 35 economically advanced countries

USA is second from the BOTTOM heading up only Romania.  But what measurements should be taken?  Which present the most useful accurate picture of the facts?  This report presents an excellent description of the problems connected to measurements of “relative poverty” as this condition creates “the sense of falling so far behind the norms of one’s society as to be at risk of social exclusion.”

23.1% of American children fall below the “relative poverty” rate in our nation

In Fig. 5 Child poverty rates by different relative poverty lines, USA remains at the bottom only above Romania using three different poverty lines set at 50%, 40% and/or 60%.  In Fig. 7 The poverty gap, USA is at the very bottom BELOW even Romania.  (The report also notes that there are many invisible children in Romania whose state of existence escape measurement.)

In spite of the variance of measurements being used in the tables presented in this report, it is true that “a greater proportion of the children are allowed to fall significantly below the norms of their societies in the United states than in the Czech Republic.”

When presented for what it is – an approximate measure not of absolute poverty but of falling so far behind the normal standard of living in the society as to be excluded from the advantages and opportunities that the majority take for granted – the idea of relative child poverty does make intuitive sense.”

In furthering discussion about advantages and disadvantages of choosing poverty measurements, the report states:

Ideally, the monitoring of child poverty would include its timing and duration as well as its breadth and depth.  The earlier the privation and the longer its duration, the greater the potential impact on the child.  This is true both because of the inherent vulnerability of the earliest years of life and because the longer a family stays poor the harder it may become to maintain essential expenditures (as savings and assets run down, for example, or as borrowing and other sources of help reach their limits).

In other words, child poverty should be monitored in three dimensions – asking not only how many children fall below national poverty lines but how far and for how long.

The Conclusion to this report:

This report has set out the latest internationally comparable data on child poverty as measured by rates of child deprivation and relative child income poverty.

The two measures are profoundly different in concept.  Both have strengths and weaknesses.  Taken together, they offer two different but complementary measures and offer the best currently available comparative picture of child poverty in the world’s wealthiest nations.

Both measures are also behind the times, and the seriousness of this failing has been exposed by the post-2008 economic downturn.  At this critical moment for low-income families in so many countries, very few have detailed information on the impact the crisis is having on children’s lives.  It may of course be argued that in times of crisis governments have more to worry about than producing statistics.  But without up-to-date information there is little possibility of putting in place policies that use limited resources in cost-effective ways to protect children from the effects of poverty.

Failure to offer this protection brings heavy costs.  The biggest price is paid by individual children whose susceptible years of mental and physical growth are placed at risk.  But societies also pay a heavy price – in lower returns on educational investments, in reduced skills and productivity, in the increased likelihood of unemployment and welfare dependence, I the higher costs of social protection and judicial systems, and in the loss of social cohesion.  In the medium term, these costs must be met in the hard currency of the billions of extra dollars spent in attempting to cope with the wide range of problems associated with high levels of child poverty.  The economic argument, in anything but the shortest term, is therefore heavily on the side of preventing children from falling into poverty in the first place.

Even more important is the argument in principle.  Childhood by its nature, and by its very vulnerability, demands of a civilized society that children should be the first to be protected rather than the last to be considered.  This principle of ‘first call’ for children holds good for governments and nations as well as for the families who bear the primary responsibility for protection.  And because children have only one opportunity to grow and to develop normally, the commitment to protection must be upheld in good times and in bad.  It must be absolute, not contingent.

Nor can this principle of first call be side-stepped by the argument that the protection of children is an individual rather than a social responsibility.  No one can seriously claim that it is the child’s fault if economies turn down or if parents are unemployed or low-paid.  That is why the league tables showing the different degrees of protection provided to at-risk groups should be weighed by politicians, press and public.  A society that fails to support parents in the task of protecting the years of childhood is a society that is failing its most vulnerable.  I is also a society that is storing up intractable social and economic problems for the years immediately ahead.


SEE ALSO this GLOBAL report:  Progress for Children:  A report card on adolescents – Number 10, April 2012

Following post – commentary:



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