US, Britain rate high on child poverty

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Forty-seven million children - or 1 in 6 - live in poverty in the world's developed nations, with the United States and Britain among the worst offenders, according to a new report by the United Nations Children's Fund.

Despite rising incomes in the 29 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a significant percentage of their children still live in families so materially poor that their health and growth are at risk, the report said.

Youngsters who grow up in poverty are more likely to have learning difficulties, drop out of school, use drugs, commit crimes, be jobless, and become pregnant too early, said the report by the Florence, Italy-based Innocenti Research Center.

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"The persistence of child poverty in rich countries ... therefore confronts the industrialized world with a test both of its ideals and of its capacity to resolve many of its most intractable social problems," it concluded.

The center found that in 23 of the 29 developed nations, children were living in relative poverty, defined as households with an income below 50 percent of the national median.

Mexico rated most poorly, with 26.2 percent of children defined as living in poverty. The US came next, with 22.4 percent, followed by Italy (20.5 percent), Britain (19.8 percent), Turkey (19.7 percent), and Ireland (16.8 percent).

Rated the best were Sweden, Norway, and Finland, with 2.6 percent, 3.9 percent, and 4.3 percent, respectively.

The report questioned the assumption that single-parent families mean more child poverty, noting that among the countries studied, Sweden has the highest share of children living with one parent - more than 20 percent - but the lowest relative child poverty rate.

In the US, child poverty is at its lowest level since 1980, but still higher than the late 1960s and 1970s, the report said. Renewed efforts are needed to help the 13.5 million children still officially considered poor, it said.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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