Dubious Distinction: U.S. Has Among the Highest Rates of Child Inequality

Dec 07, 2010

By Jodie Levin-Epstein

This posting first appeared on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

It's better to be born in Poland. That's the finding of a new UNICEF report on how well children are faring in 24 OECD nations. The report ranks Poland among a majority of countries that are doing a better job than the United States at promoting child well-being.

According to the report, "The Children Left Behind,"  the U.S., together with Italy and Greece, takes the prize for inequality in child well-being. The report ranks child inequality across three domains: education, health, and material well-being, calculating through a variety of indicators how well children at the bottom are doing in comparison with others. The United States comes in at 19th, 22nd, and 23rd worst, respectively.  It's a dubious distinction that should provoke some national soul-searching and invigorate our policy discourse.

The premise of the UNICEF report is a test. It states that "the true measure of a nation's standing is how well it attends to its children-their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born." 

The report underscores that nations can study up and do better. It asserts that "‘falling behind' is policy-susceptible-the extent to which it is not unavoidable but unjust." 

Child inequality is also a major finding of the latest Measure of America report. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity was honored to co-sponsor the November launch of the report at a Washington, D.C. conference moderated by journalist David Brancaccio. The Measure of America report examines well-being trends within the United States and offers insights into growing inequality. Using the American Human Development Index, the report ranks all 50 states, 435 congressional districts, major metropolitan areas, racial and ethnic groups, as well as data on men and women. OOTS readers can also check out the Spotlight video interviews with the co-authors of the Measure of America report and the event panelists.

As we grapple with recession and recovery, as we tackle the budget deficit, it seems wise to examine how each policy choice aggravates or mitigates child inequality in our nation.


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