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 percent of the American population as a whole is poor, but 19.9 percent 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 percent of black children and 30 percent 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.
As a result, America’s children have become worse off. Their fate is a painful example of how inequality not only undermines economic growth and stability – as economists and organizations like the International Monetary Fund are finally acknowledging – but also violates our most cherished notions of what a fair society should look like.