A new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) concludes that tens of millions of children are living in poverty in the world's wealthiest nations, with the United States having the second-highest child poverty rate of the 35 countries studied.
The study, titled "Report Card 10," counted more than 30 million children living in poverty in the 35 countries. It broke child poverty into two categories: a Child Deprivation Index, which defined children as "deprived" if they lack two or more of a list of 14 basic items such as three meals per day, a quiet place to study, educational books and an Internet connection; and a Relative Poverty Index, which looked at the percentage of children living below their national poverty line.
The Deprivation Index, which only included European countries, found the highest rates of deprivation in Romania (72.6 percent), Bulgaria (56.6 percent) and Hungary (31.9 percent). The least deprived children live in Norway, Sweden and Iceland, all of which had deprivation rates of less than 2 percent.
The nations with the highest relative child poverty are Romania (25.5 percent), the United States (23.1 percent) and Latvia (18.8 percent). Iceland had the lowest relative poverty rate (4.7 percent), followed by Finland (5.3 percent) and Cyprus, the Netherlands and Norway (all tied at 6.1 percent).
Gordon Alexander, director of UNICEF's Office of Research, issued a press release in Brussels on Tuesday in which he credited "social protection systems" for the lower rates of child poverty among the nations of Northern Europe. Alexander also criticized rich countries like the United States for failing to adequately provide for the needs of their children.
"The data reinforces that far too many children continue to go without the basics in countries that have the means to provide," he wrote in his statement.
Child poverty in the United States has been increasing at an alarming rate in recent years, accelerated by the economic crisis that began in 2008. While recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics place the percentage of American children living in poverty at 21.6 percent, that figure soars to nearly one in three for Hispanic children and a staggering 38.2 percent for African-American children.
The National Center on Family Homelessness counted more than 1.6 million homeless children living in the United States at the end of 2011, a 38 percent increase from pre-recession levels. And with 43 million Americans -- one out of seven people-- relying upon government food assistance to put food on their tables, some 61 percent of teachers surveyed said they buy food for their hungry students.
"Poverty is a critical indicator of the well-being of our nation's children," a November 2011 Census Bureau report on child poverty stated. "Children who live in poverty, especially young children, are more likely than their peers to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties, to complete fewer years of education, and, as they grow up, to experience more years of unemployment."
Brett Wilkins is the editor of Moral Low Ground.
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