The United States of America is the richest country in the world, yet nearly one in three US children lives in poverty. Our politicians constantly call America "the greatest country in the world," but how can they really claim that when child poverty rates in this country are among the highest in the developed world?
Simply put, they can't. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once stated, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
Accordingly, economic inequality is America's most pressing issue, as income inequality in the country has been on the rise over the past four decades. Only three developed countries -- Mexico, Chile and Turkey -- have higher economic inequality than the United States.
The richest fifth in the United States is 8.5 times more wealthy than the poorest fifth. Likewise, the richest 1 percent of Americans make more than one-fifth of the nation's income.
Correspondingly, a recent Harvard Business School report has characterized the current gap in wealth in the United States as economically unsustainable, but also stated it's unlikely to change anytime in the near future.
As Christopher Ingraham so aptly notes for the Washington Post:
For the richest country in the world to also have one of the world's highest childhood poverty rates is, frankly, an embarrassment. Like our high infant mortality rate, child poverty in the U.S. reflects the failure of policymakers to seriously grapple with the challenges facing the most vulnerable members of society.
Indeed, it doesn't reflect very well on a society when it can't take care of its most vulnerable members. There is an abundance of wealth in this country, but it is concentrated in a very small portion of the population.
In essence, economic inequality is a massive problem in the United States, and it is crippling future generations.
The American Dream Is An Impossibility For Millions Of US Children
More than 16 million children in the United States live in poverty -- 22 percent of all kids. When we define what it means to live in poverty, we are talking about children living below 60 percent of the nations' median income.
While it's true that America's median income -- about $31,000 per year -- is higher than many countries around the world, the dollar goes a lot further in these places than it does within the United States. Thus, while this is a complex issue, it should not be understated or overlooked.
Out of the world's developed countries, only Mexico, Israel, Spain, Latvia and Greece have a higher percentage of children living in poverty than the United States.
What's more, the proportion of American children living in poverty has actually increased by 2 percent since 2008. Concurrently, 18 other countries actually saw decreases in child poverty during the same period.
Thus, despite the fact that people often perceive America as the land of opportunity, millions of children in this country are getting left behind. As the National Center for Children in Poverty notes:
Poverty can impede children's ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty. Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children's well-being.
Hence, poverty is the catalyst for many of the most pressing matters in the United States, particularly for young people.
Poverty Is The Root Of All That's Wrong For America's Children
Child poverty in the United States is impacting everything from education to healthcare. At present, 1.3 million public school kids are homeless in America. Correspondingly, a recent study revealed that school attendance and poverty are intrinsically linked. In essence, impoverished children are far less likely to go to school and, in turn, are decidedly less likely to succeed in this world.
Not surprisingly, American students are performing poorly in math, reading and science compared to students in countries around the world. This will undoubtedly impact the future and prosperity of the nation.
What's more, one in four kids in America doesn't have enough food to eat. This leads to illness, emotional stress and development issues. Likewise, kids in impoverished regions are more likely to become obese due to the fact that fast food is much cheaper than healthy and expensive alternatives.
Additionally, seven million US children don't have health insurance. This leads to a multiplicity of health issues, including delayed immunizations, which are vital to the early health and development of children.
Hence, poverty exacerbates a number of problems for American kids. If we don't make a more concerted effort to address this issue, American children will continue to lag behind. We cannot ignore this challenge. It's imperative that we pressure public officials to focus the majority of their efforts on bringing America's kids out of poverty, or future generations will endure even greater hardships.
Photo Courtesy: Nozomu Okabe