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Our childhood poverty is a global embarrassment

May 5, 2016
AccessEconomics and FinanceGovernance and AccountabilityOutcomesState & LocalUniversal and Targeted
Josh Hoxie
U.S. News & World Report

A new UNICEF report shows the U.S. lagging behind countries like Turkey and Slovakia on efforts to reduce childhood inequality.

If a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, the United States just received an incredibly unflattering judgment. A new study published by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, ranked the wealthiest countries of the world by the well-being of their most disadvantaged children. Out of 41 countries, the U.S. ranked No. 18 overall. For context, the U.S. ranks No. 1 in total wealth. The study took a comprehensive approach, comparing the gap between children at the very bottom to those in the middle across a range of criteria – including household income, educational achievement and self-reported health and life satisfaction. The central question was this: How far do countries let those at the very bottom fall? In the United States, the answer seems to be distressingly far. . .

Investments in programs like guaranteed universal early childhood education, or pre-K, could improve prospects for children at the bottom. Currently the United States ranks No. 26 in preschool participation and No. 21 in total investment in early childhood education relative to country wealth. Universal pre-K is not a radical idea. President Obama proposed such a plan in his 2013 State of the Union address. And earlier this year, I coauthored a plan for how it could be funded by closing the carried interest loophole, a tax break for hedge fund managers so egregious that even Donald Trump says he supports closing it. Unfortunately, the prospects for passing that plan in the near term look grim. On a further sour note, even universal pre-K wouldn’t close the gap between kids from affluent families and those from poorer families.