1-in-6 Western kids live in poverty


Salon Magazine- June 12, 2000


Forty-seven million children -- or one in six -- live in poverty in the world's developed nations, with the United States and

Britain among the worst offenders, according to a new report by the United Nations Children's Fund.


Despite rising incomes in the 29 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a significant

percentage of their children still live in families so materially poor that their health and growth are at risk, the report said.


Youngsters who grow up in poverty are more likely to have learning difficulties, drop out of school, use drugs, commit crimes,

be jobless and become pregnant too early, said the report by the Florence, Italy-based Innocenti Research Center, which

monitors how industrialized nations care for their children.


"The persistence of child poverty in rich countries ... therefore confronts the industrialized world with a test both of its ideals and of its capacity to resolve many of its most intractable social problems," the report concluded.


The center found that in 23 of the 29 developed nations, children were living in relative poverty, defined as households with an

income below 50 percent of the national median.


Mexico rated most poorly, with 26.2 percent of children defined as living in poverty. The United States came next, with 22.4

percent, following by Italy (20.5 percent), Britain (19.8 percent), Turkey (19.7 percent) and Ireland (16.8 percent).


Rated the best were Sweden, Norway and Finland, with 2.6 percent, 3.9 percent and 4.3 percent respectively.


A survey of children living in absolute poverty -- defined as households with incomes below the U.S. official poverty line

converted into national currencies -- showed Poland was the worst, with 93.1 percent, followed by Hungary (90.6 percent),

the Czech Republic (83.1 percent), Spain (42.8 percent), Italy (36.1 percent) and Britain (29.1 percent).


The report questioned the assumption that large numbers of lone parent families mean more child poverty, noting that among the countries studied, Sweden has the highest share of children living with one parent -- more than 20 percent -- but the lowest

relative child poverty rate.


It also questioned the strength of the link between child poverty and overall unemployment levels, saying countries with high

unemployment can still prevent high child poverty rates.


Unemployment in Spain is more than 15 percent, while in Japan it is less than 5 percent -- but, in both countries, about 12

percent of children are living in relative poverty, it said.


The report said a closer link exists between child poverty levels and the number of households with no adults in work, which

takes into account the distribution of employment among different kinds of household.


In Britain, the figure was 19.5 percent, putting it at the bottom of the league, with the United States not far behind with 11.1

percent, while Sweden was near the top with just 5 percent.


The report praised Sweden and its Nordic neighbors for helping people into paid work. "This is then complemented by a wide

range of social policies aimed at redistributing income to reduce the inequalities that have arisen from the market," it said.


In Britain, the report said, child poverty has tripled over the past 20 years. But new welfare measures and a minimum wage

introduced by the Labor Party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair should lift more than 1 million children out of poverty

by 2002, cutting the child poverty rate to 17 percent, it said.


In the United States, child poverty is now at its lowest level since 1980, but still higher than the late 1960s and 1970s, the

report said. Renewed efforts are needed to help the 13.5 million children still officially considered poor, it said.