U.S. Ranks at the Bottom of Child Well-Being

Salon.com / By Katie McDonough [1] April 12, 2013

The United States ranked in the bottom four of a United Nations report [2] on child well-being. Among 29 countries, America landed second from the bottom in child poverty and held a similarly dismal position when it came to “child life satisfaction.”

Keeping the U.S. company at the bottom of the report, which gauged material well-being, overall health, access to housing and education, were Lithuania, Latvia and Romania, three of the poorest countries in the survey.

UNICEF said in a statement on the survey that child poverty in countries like the U.S. “is not inevitable but is policy-susceptible” and that there isn’t necessarily a strong relationship between per capita GDP and overall child well-being, explaining: “The Czech Republic is ranked higher than Austria, Slovenia higher than Canada, and Portugal higher than the United States.”

The Netherlands ranked number one on the list, with Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden filling out the top five.

But don’t feel too discouraged, fellow Americans! As the International Business Times notes [3], the U.S. has managed to take first place in plenty of other surveys conducted by global organizations:

The United States is No. 1 on many other lists: It spends more on the military than the next 12 nations on the list combined; it’s the best in the world at imprisoning people; and it has the most obese people, the highest divorce rate, and the highest rate of both illicit and prescription drug use.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/us-ranks-bottom-child-well-being

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/katie-mcdonough
[2] http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf
[3] http://www.ibtimes.com/unicef-report-child-well-being-shows-us-near-bottom-list-1186975
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/child-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/unicef
[6] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Rise and Fall of the American Childhood By Colin Greer

AlterNet, July 19, 2012

Excerpt

From the 1930s to 1980, child­hood in Amer­ica became a cher­ished space for young­sters to grow in. After 1980, and with increas­ing furor, that space has been under assault and child­hood ter­ri­bly com­pro­mised. Look at what we once did and what we’re now doing.

The Rise: Child labor laws, Civil rights pro­tec­tions for all chil­dren., Full and secure employ­ment for par­ents. Play as a mode of learn­ing. Early child­hood as a time to invest in child devel­op­ment through stim­u­lat­ing play…Access to qual­ity edu­ca­tion on an unprece­dented scale…The US moved toward uni­ver­sal inclu­sion from ele­men­tary through post-secondary education.

Yet once these gains were fully estab­lished in the top rungs of soci­ety, they began to shut down for the nation’s chil­dren as a whole. For 50 years, the pen­du­lum swung toward pro­tect­ing chil­dren and guar­an­tee­ing a child­hood for all; then it began to swing back when less than half of the pop­u­la­tion had securely achieved these ben­e­fits. So despite the lan­guage of “going too far” in the direc­tion of a pro­tec­tive, even a “nanny state,” we have never in fact gone far enough for the least priv­i­leged of us…

Chil­dren in poor and immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties are actu­ally work­ing — on the land and in sweat­shops — despite our laws to the con­trary. Chil­dren in this pop­u­la­tion have less than a 10% chance of a col­lege edu­ca­tion. Hunger and home­less­ness among these chil­dren is at shock­ingly high levels….The need for both par­ents to work in the face of not only eco­nomic down­turns, but the demand for higher pro­duc­tiv­ity from Amer­i­can work­ers and lower pub­lic ben­e­fits, puts the lives of chil­dren under stresses that we once aimed to eradicate.

In describ­ing both the rise and fall of Amer­i­can child­hood, I’ve quoted no data for two rea­sons. One, it is all out there. It’s in the press and in the pro­fes­sional lit­er­a­ture for all to find. Two, the gath­er­ing of data seems to make no dif­fer­ence to pub­lic behav­ior and pub­lic policy.

Per­haps it’s time instead for each of us to imag­ine just one child, one who looks like a child you know and love. Each of these chil­dren is the bearer of the accu­mu­lated loss sum­ma­rized in the Rise and Fall.

Full text

From the 1930s to 1980, childhood in America became a cherished space for youngsters to grow in. After 1980, and with increasing furor, that space has been under assault and childhood terribly compromised. Look at what we once did and what we’re now doing.

The Rise:

Child labor laws.
Civil rights protections for all children.
Full and secure employment for parents.
Play as a mode of learning. Early childhood as a time to invest in child development through stimulating play.
Contraception and the Pill allowed women choice and children to feel chosen.
Feminism brought fatherhood back home and encouraged men to be robust partners in parenting.
Protection from adult violence including corporal punishment and child abuse; the establishment of family and children’s courts, and special sentencing for minors.
Access to quality education on an unprecedented scale stimulated by competition with the Russians and influenced by deep psychology. The US moved toward universal inclusion from elementary through post-secondary education.

Yet once these gains were fully established in the top rungs of society, they began to shut down for the nation’s children as a whole. For 50 years, the pendulum swung toward protecting children and guaranteeing a childhood for all; then it began to swing back when less than half of the population had securely achieved these benefits. So despite the language of “going too far” in the direction of a protective, even a “nanny state,” we have never in fact gone far enough for the least privileged of us.

The Fall:

Schools, once protected from the workplace, have been turned into a workplace of rigid rules, intense competition and permanent stress. Even privileged children are educated in the fortress school mentality set in motion by Ronald Reagan’s “Nation at Risk” report and George Bush’s No Child Left Behind act. The pressure cooker of privileged schooling sets in motion a competitiveness, pitting kids against each other, and ironically, producing insecurity and trauma in the lives of rich kids, too.

Play is diminished in importance and recreational activity in the school setting has become a privileged enrichment benefit in private schools.

Unemployment and welfare reform have made family life insecure with its greatest impact on the lowest 40% of income earners.

Child consumption has skyrocketed as an advertising target, with violence all too often the trigger to this consumption. And despite our public recoil at child molestation, our media continue to sexualize children, especially girls.

Failure to protect children from adult assault has become a commonplace discovery in such basic institutions as the Church and sports. In born-again settings, corporal punishment is on the rise, according both to victims and the sale of popular books lauding it as a method of discipline. And of course, profiling in immigrant and poor communities has made vulnerable children even more so.

Children in poor and immigrant communities are actually working — on the land and in sweatshops — despite our laws to the contrary. Children in this population have less than a 10% chance of a college education. Hunger and homelessness among these children is at shockingly high levels.

Challenges to contraception have reached national credibility, with no regard to the memory of unwanted and maimed children resulting from aborted abortions.

The extension of the age of culpability for criminal behavior and the use of adult courts for teenage offenders is adding to the pain of children in parts of the socio-economy where the incarceration of parents is disproportionately high.

The need for both parents to work in the face of not only economic downturns, but the demand for higher productivity from American workers and lower public benefits, puts the lives of children under stresses that we once aimed to eradicate.

In describing both the rise and fall of American childhood, I’ve quoted no data for two reasons. One, it is all out there. It’s in the press and in the professional literature for all to find. Two, the gathering of data seems to make no difference to public behavior and public policy.

Perhaps it’s time instead for each of us to imagine just one child, one who looks like a child you know and love. Each of these children is the bearer of the accumulated loss summarized in the Rise and Fall.
Colin Greer is president of the New World Foundation in New York. Among his books is A Call to Character (HarperCollins, 1995).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/156380/

Our Human Family

 We’re all in this together

Five Lessons in Human Goodness From “The Hunger Games” By Jeremy Adam Smith
 YES! Magazine, Posted on AlterNet.org, June 28, 2012

Change Agent Karen Armstrong argues for practical compassion — interview with Heidi Bruce,  published in YES! Magazine, posted on Christian Science, April 17, 2012

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

The Commons Moment is Now – How a small, dedicated group of people can transform the world—really by Jay Walljasper, CommonDreams.org, January 24, 2011

Compassion/Empathy

The Compassionate Instinct by Dacher Keltner, Greater Good Science Center, Spring 2004

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, Interview by Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.com, February 17, 2010

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way by Brian Alexander, MSNBC, August 10, 2011

Generational Justice

Our Three Bombs by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, October 7, 2009

The Decade of Lost Children by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, August 5, 2011

Why our children’s future no longer looks so bright By Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post,  October 16, 2011

Human Nature

The Fascinating Scientific Reason Why “Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness” By David McRaney, Alternet.org, January 25, 2012

The Social Animal by David Brooks, New York Times, September 12, 2008

Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn, The Nation,  August 11, 2010

Global economic crisis also values crisis – Davos poll - by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers  |  Davos – PARIS, Reuters, January 27, 2010

Crisis

Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption or Face ‘Downward Vortex’ of ‘Ills’ by Common Dreams staff, Common Dreams Report, April 26, 2012

How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity by Joshua Holland, Alternet.org, December 25, 2011