According to a recent report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a France-based supervisor of industrialized nations, the United States has some of the modern world’s worst rates of child impoverishment, teen pregnancy and infant mortality. These results are striking given that the U.S. spends more per child (approximately $140,000) on welfare and educational services than the OECD average of $125,000 (Keller & Kurowski, 2009).
Child poverty statistics in the U.S. are almost twice the OECD average, at 21.6 percent compared to 12.4 percent. The rate of adolescent births in our country is triple the OECD average, with only Mexico reporting a higher rate among the 30 member OECD countries.
Why did the United States fare so poorly in the child well-being survey, despite spending more money per child? The OECD report suggests that U.S. government funding for children is heavily skewed to older children and adolescents (ages 12-17). U.S. spending on education, health and social services for children under six years of age trails far behind other industrialized nations- we spend about $20,000 on early childhood compared to the OECD average of $30,000 (Keller & Kurowski, 2009).
In “Doing Better For Children”, the report released last Tuesday, the OECD encourages the United States to transfer more of its public funding to our youngest citizens in order to advance our health and educational attainment. “A better balance of spending between the ‘Dora the Explorer’ years of early childhood and the teenage ‘Facebook’ years would help improve the health, education and well-being of all children in the long term,” the OECD said. The group suggests that the U.S. could benefit from investing in early childhood programs that strengthen pre- and post- natal services, promote breastfeeding and educate parents about healthy diet and risk factors such as smoking.
There is an urgent need to address these risk factors associated with poor child welfare, as they are especially prevalent in our community. In Memphis, almost one in five births are to females less than 20 years of age (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2005). Additionally, over 40% of Memphis children (under 18 years of age) live in impoverished households (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007) . Each year, more than half of the children born in Shelby County are born into families in poverty and lacking access to basic resources that young children need for optimal early childhood development [TUCI], 2009).
Research shows that spending on early childhood is one of the smartest investments a society can make. By focusing on our youngest children and families – particularly the cohort of young children most in need - and implementing successful interventions, we can make economic and social decisions now that will enhance the well-being of the next generation (TUCI, 2009). We encourage our local, state and federal officials to consider the suggestions offered by the OECD- invest wisely in our youngest citizens in order to reach the future we envision for our community and our nation.
For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, www.kidscount.org.
Keller, G. & Kurowski, R. (2009, September 2). US fares poorly in child welfare survey. The Associated Press. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g_CQ5dFodttwmt5mQB0fQiOrq_uwD9AEMF2O4
The Urban Child Institute. (2009). The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County: Data Book. Memphis, TN: The Urban Child Institute.