New report finds millions of children are without food and homes, and the prospect of escaping poverty is impossible under Trump
The Trump administration must pay urgent attention to the shockingly high number of children living in poverty in the US, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty declares in a heavyweight report on the condition of America today warning of the prospect of the American dream becoming the American illusion.
Philip Alston, who acts as the UNs watchdog on poverty and inequality around the world, spells out in blunt and unremitting terms the damage wrought by child poverty in one of the worlds richest countries. In his findings on conditions in the US, he highlights the personal suffering of millions of children who are left without food, homes and futures and warns that such deprivation is killing the American dream.
He lays out the brutal statistics:
- 18% of American children some 13.3 million were living in poverty in 2016, making up almost a third of the total poor;
- more than one in five homeless people are children, including 1.3 million school students who were without a home during the academic year;
- infant mortality, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50% higher than other advanced nations;
- the US ranks 25th out of 29 industrialised countries in terms of the amount it invests in young children.
This is tragic and unconscionable, to treat so many children in this way, but it is also a totally self-defeating economic policy, Alston said in an interview with the Guardian. The ramifications are clear and considerable the US is building a future citizenry that is under-nourished, under-educated, under-stimulated, and that in turn will rebound dramatically on the society itself.
While child poverty has been a pressing problem for many years in the US, Alston warns that policies being pursued by the Trump White House are likely to make it much worse. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Snap, helped almost four million children stay out of the clutches of poverty in 2015 now Trump is proposing in his 2019 budget to cut the program by almost a third.
Carolyn Miles, president and chief executive of Save the Children US, said the food stamp program was critical for struggling families. This is certainly not the time to be cutting these benefits in America, she said.
A new report by Save the Children on the US finds that children in America are at least twice as likely to be poor as children in Norway, Iceland, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden and Germany. That disparity rises to more than five times as likely to be poor when compared to children in Finland and Denmark.
One of the most insidious aspects of poverty among the under-18s is how it eviscerates individuals prospects of advancement, and thus undercuts one of the main glues of American society the almost universally shared belief in the American dream of an equal opportunity to achieve success through hard work and aspiration. Alston points out that the US has one of the lowest rates of social mobility between generations of any rich country not least because child poverty is so prevalent.
We know children who grow up in poverty have very little prospect of escaping from it, he said. Thats being locked in, here, ensuring the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.
Some of the most visceral child poverty can be found in rural areas, particularly in the midwest and deep south, paradoxically where a lot of Trump voters live. Carolyn Miles recently returned from Duncan, Mississippi, a small town of about 500 people in the heart of depressed cotton country where a stunning 80% of the children live in poverty.
This area is completely desolate, its a really rough place to live for kids. Families cant put food on the table every day. Every single child in local schools is on the federal school lunch program, many schools serve breakfast and some even dinner, she said.
Save the Children works with Mississippi children to try to improve literacy rates. They have found that by the time they start kindergarten at age four, many kids are already 18 months behind the national average educational ability.
We are trying to get these kids a shot, just to have a chance at an even playing field, she said.
The paucity of health care and other services, particularly in rural areas, forces parents into having to make painful decisions about how to allocate their meager incomes. Alston, who carried out an official UN fact-finding mission in December that took him to some of the poorest parts of the US, came across a particularly emotive dilemma.
Parents explained they had to decide between buying their child a Christmas present or saving it for essential food or shoes. There was no money to spare, and anything that was done out of the ordinary, such as buying a present, would penalize the child, he said.