Why Are American Children Worse Off Than European Kids?

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report entitled “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries” comparing the quality of living in children across 29 Western countries. In all five measures of standard of living, material well-being, health and safety, behaviors and risk, housing and environment and of course, educations, the US ranked in the bottom third across the board.

So, on average American children are worse off than the majority of their Western Europe counterparts. To put that in context, American children are scarcely better off than those in the Baltic states or the former Yugoslavia, the latter of which is still recovering from a nation-splitting genocide. The U.S. came in a shocking 26th overall, coming in worse (27th) in quality of education.

So, how is it that such a rich, prestigious country came in so low on the list and barely edged out Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania? Many have pointed out that this survey takes into account the average lifestyle of children in American, which could indicate a growing inequality between the rich and poor. The UNICEF report does support this theory, as it also affirmed that the US has the second highest share of children living under the relative poverty and the second largest “child poverty gap”. 22% of children in U.S. are living in poverty, which is equivalent to roughly 16 million children.

With such shocking statistics, you’d hope that we (namely the U.S. government) are doing everything we can to close this rift, but many fear that the Sequestration may be doing just the opposite. With budget cuts that hit nearly every program dedicated the helping the poor, including Head Start, which provides opportunities for better education for children of low-income families and will lose the ability to help 70,000 children in need thanks to the Sequestrations. The National Center for Children’s Policy asserts that poverty is the greatest threat towards a child’s well being. So, if we want to do better in any of the five metrics outline by UNICEF, we need to address the growing concern of the millions of children living below the poverty line.

However, this news might not be catching all Americans off-guard. In a report published over a year ago, it was stated that 53% of Americans think that today’s children will have a harder life than their parents did. This is a more optimistic finding than the 59% of Americans who shared this opinion in 2009, but it still indicates that the majority of Americans do not see the lives of American children getting any easier. Every day in the U.S. 2,712 babies are born into poverty, America cannot expect to climb from its low status vis-à-vis Western Europe if this issue is not directly addressed.

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Rachel Lesser

Rachel is studying at Georgetown University. But more importantly, she is a lover of words, art, travel and adventure.

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