Study Ranks US Second-Highest in Child Poverty Among 35 Developed Countries
Contrasting Plans in Congress Highlight Failure to Address Tragic Wealth Inequalities
(WASHINGTON)—Today, America received an alarming confirmation of our failure to address the declining position of children in our society. According to a UNICEF study of child poverty in 35 developed countries, the United States is ranked second after Romania, with a rate of 23.1%. Ranked last on the list was Iceland with a meager rate of 4.7%.
This news comes against the back drop of dueling possible futures for America. One is characterized by austerity and surging wealth inequalities and the other would focus on growth, critical investment in our economy and greater protections for those who fall through the safety net. Congress is currently faced with a choice between Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s “Rebuild America Act.” Both claim to address the need for strengthening the middle class; however, Paul’s plan all but eliminates the middle class by its resulting expansion of the gap between the rich and the poor, while Harkin’s bill provides it with much-needed protection.
The experience of the United Kingdom is instructive here. The UK saw one of the steepest reductions in child poverty rate only after its government made it a focus amidst a dismal rating in the years prior. The rate was linked to a need for increasing household incomes via programs focused on making public services more accessible. Harkin’s bill follows this same path by improving the economic security for families to have access to less expensive and better childcare, while incentivizing child care providers with better working conditions and wages. In contrast, Ryan’s plan slashes food stamps and repeals the Affordable Care Act with its many provisions centered on improving child care.
Another viable method of government intervention is in improving labor protections. One factor every country studied except the United States had in common is the guarantee of paid sick leave to workers. Contrary to Congressional Republican’s misleading messages, such protection strengthens family’s ability to balance work and family. Harkin’s bill addresses this void, while Ryan’s plan only weakens it.
“The conservative message of austerity runs smack into the reality of this report,” said Steve Savner, Policy Director of the Center for Community Change. “Congress can and must act to protect our children from poverty. The experience of every industrialized country in the world teaches that critical investments in education, jobs and the social safety net are the only true path to prosperity.”
“Sen. Harkin’s effort to strengthen the middle class deserves our full support, especially in light of this new study. Any supporter of the Ryan plan ought to be embarrassed by this ranking, because they fully know that this rate would only increase under the so-called ‘Path to Prosperity,’” Savner said. “This is report is serious reminder that we need to get our priorities right for our future and our children.”