Inequality and the American Child

NEW YORK – Children, it has long been recognized, are a special group. They do not choose their parents, let alone the broader conditions into which they are born. They do not have the same abilities as adults to protect or care for themselves. That is why the League of Nations approved the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1924, and why the international community adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

Sadly, the United States is not living up to its obligations. In fact, it has not even ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US, with its cherished image as a land of opportunity, should be an inspiring example of just and enlightened treatment of children. Instead, it is a beacon of failure – one that contributes to global sluggishness on children’s rights in the international arena.

Though an average American childhood may not be the worst in the world, the disparity between the country’s wealth and the condition of its children is unparalleled. About 14.5% of the American population as a whole is poor, but 19.9% of children – some 15 million individuals – live in poverty. Among developed countries, only Romania has a higher rate of child poverty. The US rate is two-thirds higher than that in the United Kingdom, and up to four times the rate in the Nordic countries. For some groups, the situation is much worse: more than 38% of black children, and 30% of Hispanic children, are poor.

None of this is because Americans do not care about their children. It is because America has embraced a policy agenda in recent decades that has caused its economy to become wildly unequal, leaving the most vulnerable segments of society further and further behind. The growing concentration of wealth – and a significant reduction in taxes on it – has meant less money to spend on investments for the public good, like education and the protection of children.