Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why is the US at the Bottom of the List?

“A country cannot be said to be doing the best it can for its children if other countries at a similar stage of economic development are doing much better – and that’s what the league tables are designed to show.” -- UNICEF Report

Last week, the news media featured the UNICEF study on the quality of children’s lives that reported the US as #20 of 21 economically advanced countries. Simultaneously, we received notice that there would be no RFP for 21st Century Learning Centers this year. After school programs will close. The funding has been cut.

The funding has been cut, but the US Treasury reported that during the last twelve months, tax receipts have grown by 11.5% while spending growth is only up 5.5%. Can't we afford to continue after school programs?

The UNICEF Report, from their Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy, measures and compares child well-being across more than 20 economically advanced countries under six different headings – material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of their own well-being.

Some highlights from the data include:

  • Relative child poverty remains above the 15% mark in the three Southern European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy) and in three Anglophone countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland).

The use of data on the proportion of children living in single-parent families and step-families as an indicator of wellbeing may seem unfair and insensitive. But at the statistical level there is evidence to associate growing up in single-parent families and step-families with greater risk to well-being – including a greater risk of dropping out of school, of leaving home early, of poorer health, of low skills, and of low pay.

  • Overall, approximately 80% of children in the countries under review are living with both parents. But the range is considerable – from more than 90% in Greece and Italy to less than 70% in the United Kingdom and 60% in the United States
  • Surveys of young people’s own perception of their own health show that, in virtually all of the countries for which data are available, girls report lower levels of health than boys and that this difference gradually increases with age.

Some of the areas where the US stands out negatively include:

  • Poverty rate (Household income less than 50% of the median) (21.7%)
  • Death rate, accidental and not, for children under 19 years (22.9 per 100,000)
  • Percentage of children living in single parent and step-family homes (36.8%)
  • Percent of students age 11, 13, and 15 who report using cannabis in the last 12 months (31.4%)
  • Birth rate among young women ages 15 – 19 (46 per 1,000)
  • Low percentage of youth who report eating breakfast every school day (47.2%)
  • Percent of 13 & 15 year olds who report being overweight (25.1%)

The Report Card recognizes limitations in the availability of internationally comparable data, but, bringing together the best currently available data, the Innocenti study represents a significant contribution to measuring child well-being across rich nations.

They report there is no strong or consistent relationship between per capita GDP and child well-being. The Czech Republic, for example, achieves a higher overall rank for child well-being than several much wealthier European countries. Also, no country features in the top third of the rankings for all six dimensions of child well-being.

Read more about the report


1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
4. Finland
5. Spain
6. Switzerland
7. Norway
8. Italy
9. Ireland
10. Belgium
11. Germany
12 = Canada
12 = Greece
14. Poland
15. Czech Republic
16. France
17. Portugal
18. Austria
19. Hungary
20. U.S.
21 UK

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