The United States has an incredibly high child poverty rate. Nearly one in seven children lives in a poor family environment. By comparison, fewer than 10 percent of adults are poor. And under 9 percent of those age 65 and over are.

CHILD POVERTY also doesn't fall evenly across demographics : 71 percent of poor children are Black, Hispanic or Native American.

BUT child poverty is not a problem without a solution. Americans may roll their eyes at being constantly compared unfavourably with Western European countries, but in this case the United States is not just bested by the usual suspects.

It is a pretty extreme outlier. Out of 40 countries, America ranks 38th, behind not just Finland, Denmark, Germany and France but also Slovenia, Estonia, Russia and Mexico.

There's a very simple reason for this : America doesn't give parents enough money to raise their children. Or at least it didn't until last year's expanded child tax credit payments that proved the country could if it wanted to.

Some have blamed single women choosing to have children and the decay of ''the American family'' for poverty, in the words of the former representative Michele Bachmann. But the shapes and sizes of our families can't explain this high child poverty rate.

''Across countries, child poverty rates are pretty similar in terms of the poverty that's there before the government does anything,'' Jane Waldflogel, a professor of social work at Columbia, told me.

Even with the comparatively paltry wages and low-income Americans earn, the country still has similar poverty levels to others just based on income alone, before the government offers families benefits.

That's true for all kinds of families. In the 2000s, about 65% of American single mothers lived in poverty before the government stepped in, similar to rates in Canada and Germany and lower than in Britain.

But once the government benefits were taken into account, single mothers' poverty rates dropped significantly in most countries but stayed highest in the United States, at over 50 percent.

''It's not our family structure or our demographic mix or high immigrant share or any of those things,'' Dr. Waldfogel said. 

''If you look at what share of children would be in poverty if all they had was what their family brings in, we would be very comparable in our child poverty rate to Canada or France or England or any of our other peer countries.''

OTHERS have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. 

As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, ''There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.''

But America's high child poverty rate isn't because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they are just plain lazier in the United States. The country manages to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. ''It's no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,'' Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

Failing to invest in children comes with concrete consequences, for both them and everyone else.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Bryce Covert.


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