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Poor Children Fare Worse in America

March 1996

Poor American children are worse off than poor children in most other Western industrialized countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study. The nonprofit group, funded by NSF and similar agencies in other countries, studied the economies and welfare of residents in 18 nations, according to The New York Times.

The general welfare of poor youth in the United States is worse than in most of the countries surveyed, including Italy, Finland and Canada, but better than in Ireland and Israel, the study reported. This, despite the fact that the United States ranks second in economic output per person, coming directly after Luxembourg.

"The United States appears to have sunk through the rankings over the last 30 years, although no conclusive data are available," study director and co-author Timothy M. Smeeding told The New York Times. In the 1950s, the United States led in overall prosperity, but since the 1960s, this lead has declined and childhood poverty has increased. Childhood poverty has also increased in Britain and Israel.

The severe poverty among American children appears to have several causes, Smeeding says:

  • American households with children are less affluent than households without children, the study reports, a trend not seen in other European nations.
  • American mothers are less likely to return to work after childbirth as quickly as European mothers.
  • The United States has the widest gap between the rich and poor, and the least generous social programs, of any of the 18 nations surveyed.

Researchers in the Luxembourg Income Study made their comparisons by using census data from the following nations: Australia, Canada, Israel, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. The study's results were consistent with less statistically detailed studies by other social scientists.

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