By Chris Caraveo
Children are the future adults of the world, and some countries are doing more to help their youth better than others.
August is Child Support Awareness Month, and with the U.S. having the seventh highest child poverty rate among economically-developed countries, personal-finance website WalletHub released its report on 2019’s States with the Most Underprivileged Children.
Arizona has the 11th most underprivileged children, per the report. Among the 50 states, New Mexico has the most, followed by West Virginia and Mississippi. New Jersey has the least underprivileged children.
“Arizona has a large share of children in foster care, as well as a high ratio of children living in renter vs owner households,” said WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzalez. “Other factors that contributed to the state’s poor ranking include the third largest percentage of adolescents who feel sad or hopeless, a high child food insecurity rate, and a large share of uninsured children.
“States in the northeast seem to be doing a better job of addressing the problem of underprivileged children. They have some of the lowest shares of children living in extreme poverty, some of the smallest infant and child death rates, and quality public school systems.”
Arizona has the fourth highest percentage of uninsured children, both the eighth highest child food-insecurity and percentage of children in foster care, the 11th highest percentage of children in households with below-poverty income, and the 16th highest homeless rate among children and youth.
“Arizona also needs to improve in terms of education,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “Some of the results of its poor quality school system can be seen in the fourth lowest public high school graduation rate, a large share of young children not enrolled in school, and one of the highest percentages of teens who are neither attending school nor working.”
While some single parents handle their children well, Arizona still has the 12th highest percentage of children living in single-parent families.
“At a minimum, all children need at least one loving supportive adult in their lives and resources to develop their individual skills and aspirations,” said Trina R. Shanks, Ph.D., a social work faculty member at the University of Michigan. “Unfortunately, due to huge disparities by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status often reified by residential segregation, those that have the most need live in the most disadvantaged circumstances.”
As a nation, the United States has the seventh highest rate of child poverty — 29.4% — among economically developed countries, according to a report by UNICEF, which used 2014 estimates that show the proportion of each nation’s children living in a household where disposable income was less than 60% of the national median, after taxes and benefits, and adjustments for family size and composition.
With children living in poverty-stricken households, obtaining an early start on education may be a problem.
Neal M. Horen, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Georgetown University, said the first three years of a child’s life are critical in terms of brain development.
“We understand from longitudinal studies and form the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study that the impact of negative events early in life has life long consequences into adulthood,” he said. “So, the most efficient and effective programs for equalizing opportunity are those that impact young children in this regard, including home visiting programs.
“Strong early care and education programs particularly high quality child care and the federal Early Head Start/Head Start program are places that enrich the social emotional development of young children while also addressing motor, cognitive, communication and school readiness skills.”
However, in the way of quality education for some children is foster care.
“Children in foster care are more disadvantaged and are more likely to be maltreated or become homeless,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “They also have little to no access to quality healthcare and education, and thus have limited opportunities.”
WalletHub’s report also looked at a child’s physical well-being. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds. The total costs of maltreatment per year reach $80.3 billion.
Child abuse and neglect is not uncommon in Arizona. Throughout the Valley in the last five months, there have been multiple reports of children being left along in hot or running vehicles. One turned fatal in Glendale.
In turn, parents have been arrested for physically harming their children. In Avondale Thursday, a woman was arrested after police found her four children in a hot vehicle. Her 3-year-old tested positive for meth while her 1-year-old had a severe diaper rash. Earlier this year in Surprise, a man is accused of shooting his step-daughter because she ate food she was not allowed to have.
According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, relative child poverty rate tends to be lower in countries that choose to invest more of their national income in programs that alleviate poverty and material hardship.
Denmark and Finland are among the nations with the most generous social expenditures — each spending about one-fifth of their GDP — and the lowest post-tax post-transfer, child poverty rates — both below 4%. The EPI used share of children living in households making below half of a country’s adjusted median income in 2014, as opposed to below 60% by UNICEF’s findings from above.
However, in 2014 the U.S. had the second highest post-tax, post-transfer child poverty rate — 20.2% — among developed countries under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The country also spent the third lowest share of GDP on social programs — 12% — after Slovenia, 11.3%, and Slovakia, 11.7%.
“Some elected officials pay more attention to underprivileged than others,” Ms. Shanks said. “But very few seem to appreciate how great existing disparities are and the level of investment and coordination across systems that would be necessary to actually make the country more equitable and improve outcomes for children with the greatest need.”