US: The ‘Paradise’ of Poor Children

The news of black adolescents shot to death by American police have overturned the world and unleashed mass protests and a heated debate in that nation of limitless possibilities.

Many are the voices and opinions in search of reasons for the outbreak of state violence against the civilian population. One of these voices is that of economist Jeff Madrick, who says in his article “The Cost Of Child Poverty” that among the causes, “one in particular has been all too little acknowledged: America’s child poverty crisis.” According to a 2012 UNICEF study in 35 developed countries, which was cited by the author, in the United States, there are 13 million children and adolescents under 18 years old living in poverty. That means that approximately 20 percent of the young population is poor, and among the black population, that number reaches almost 50 percent. For a nation so rich and powerful, this is a disgrace.

In the author’s opinion, dozens of studies have demonstrated a direct link between child poverty and what he calls the social dysfunction of affected children, which includes learning difficulties, delays in development, a tendency to contract chronic diseases, low school performance, dropping out of school, criminality and imprisonment before the age of 16.

According to the economist, some programs to combat the problem have been implemented, including tax reductions for low-income families, home visits and temporary assistance plans for needy families. However, these programs have been a drop in the ocean, since they have only helped 115,000 families. Besides, the programs aim to improve the health of poor children and not to eradicate child poverty. But Madrick does not deny their positive effects, which have been verified in recent studies.

Before proposing a concrete solution, Madrick cites Harry Holzer, an expert from Georgetown University, who has calculated the the country’s losses due to child poverty — assessed as losses in productivity, high crime rates, and elevated health costs — are around $500 billion annually. Based on these data and the positive effects of the programs that have been implemented thus far, the author proposes a plan aimed at ending child poverty. A part of the model for doing so already exists in some South American and European countries: direct financial aid for all children, whether they are poor or wealthy.

Madrick suggests the British model, implemented in 1999 by Prime Minister Tony Blair, which supplies direct financial aid and complementary programs at close to $5,000 per year to each family. Child poverty in the United Kingdom has been reduced by 50 percent in 15 years. According to data supplied by the author, England invests 1 percent of its gross domestic product in this program.

Madrick’s opponents argue that to invest 1 percent of U.S. GDP would be too expensive, since it would be equivalent to investing some $100 billion a year in American children. The economist’s argument is that more than being an economic issue, it is a humanitarian issue. He says that besides the financial benefits in the short and medium term, “the reduction of suffering of the innocents would be what counts the most.”

Like the author says, the problem is that “until today there has been little interest in fighting child poverty on a grand scale.” Madrick is right if we take into account that Congress approved $581 billion in military spending in 2014, and it approved $614 billion for the same cause in 2013. The war that Washington waged against the Iraqi people cost taxpayers close to $800 billion. That is enough money to have implemented Madrick’s plan and to perhaps have saved the lives of all the young people who, since then, have died as victims of poverty and racial and social discrimination.

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